Friday, April 1, 2011

The Book of Judges - Gideon Part 1

It is Friday and that means we are back in the book of Judges.  Last week I was under the weather and just posted Deborah's song, but now we are ready to move ahead to the next judge.  The next judge is another one that we have all heard of.  This week (and next) we will be talking about Gideon.  We left off last week at the end of Judges 5 when the Bible said that Israel had rest for forty years.  As we have discussed before, that is enough time for the generation that has seen the works of God to pass away and a new generation to grow into adulthood. 
Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it.  Judges 6:1-5 NKJV
And the pattern we have been seeing has repeated itself yet again.  Israel fell away from God and God delivered them into the hands of the Midianites.  Not only that, but the Amalekites were all to happy to take advantage of the weakened Israel.  The children of Israel fled to the mountains for cover unable to stand up to the enemy armies.  Israel was utterly helpless.  They could not even grow their own food as their enemies would come and destroy their crops whenever they tried.  Israel was also left without livestock as a result of their enemies.  Israel was living under the chastisement of the Lord yet again for lessons unlearned from previous times.
So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried out to the LORD because of the Midianites, that the LORD sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; 'and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. Also I said to you, "I am the LORD your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell." But you have not obeyed My voice.' "  Judges 6:6-10 NKJV
After seven years, Israel cries out to the Lord in desperation.  The Lord sent them a prophet who basically reminded them just what God has done for them and that they have ignored His commandments.  Israel was in rebellion to the God and God is letting them know that this is the reason for their oppression. 
Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!" Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."  Judges 6:11-13 NKJV
Here is where we meet Gideon.  Gideon is is threshing wheat in hiding because if the Midianites saw what he was doing, they would take the wheat away from him.  Such was life in Israel  God finds him and greets him with quite a greeting: The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!"  Gideon, being a smart fellow, looked at the fact that he was secretly threshing wheat in a winepress for fear of the Midianites, thought something fishy about that statement.  He basically asked how can God be with him when he and the rest of Israel are having such a terrible time.  He reminds God of all the miracles He performed and asks God how come he has not seen any of them.  Gideon may not think of himself as bold, but those are some rather bold statements! 
Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?"  Judges 6:14 NKJV
I just wanted to pause here for a bit.  God basically ignored everything Gideon and just said and told him to go in his might and save Israel from those who oppress him and his people. Gideon was probable still wondering what might God was talking about.
So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man."  Judges 6:15-16 NKJV
Gideon is still not convinced. He is almost too humble for his own good.  In echoes of Moses and others, Gideon reminds God of his inadequacies.  He tells God that he is the weakest person in the weakest tribe in a defeated nation.  God says something that changes everything.  God says that He is with Gideon and that he will defeat the Midianites as one man.  It changes everything because no matter how weak or inadequate Gideon is, God is with him.  Gideon is being told that he is not to rely on his own strength or lack thereof, but that God will be his strength. 
Then he said to Him, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You." And He said, "I will wait until you come back." So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. The Angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth." And he did so. Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the LORD departed out of his sight. Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face." Then the LORD said to him, "Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die."  So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it The-LORD-Is-Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.  Judges 6:17-23 NKJV
Gideon is still not convinced. Gideon basically says that he would like to believe that he was speaking to God, but he needs to see a little more in the way of a sign.  God is showing exceptional patience with Gideon here.  Gideon asks for Him to remain where is is while be prepares an offering.  We are told to test the spirits to see if they are really from God, Gideon is doing that here.  Gideon goes and prepares a meal and the Angel of the Lord tells him where to leave it.  The Angel of the Lord touches His staff to the meal and it is consumed by fire.  Gideon suddenly realizes just who He was speaking to and fears for his life (the general response when someone realizes they are face to face with God).  God assuages his fears and Gideon is now ready for some direction.  It is also mentioned here that Gideon makes an altar and calls it The Lord is Peace, which is interesting as the Lord is calling him to war.  It is almost as though Gideon is looking past the mission and forward to the reward.  Maybe we should take the same approach.
Now it came to pass the same night that the LORD said to him, "Take your father's young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; "and build an altar to the LORD your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down." So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the LORD had said to him. But because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night. And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. So they said to one another, "Who has done this thing?" And when they had inquired and asked, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing." Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it." But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!" Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, "Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar."   Judges 6:24-32 NKJV
God now gives Gideon his first task.  It seems as though Gideon's father is not the best example as he was an idolater.  He was part of the reason Israel was being judged.  He was told to tear down his father's altar to Baal and to build instead an altar to the Lord.  He was not quite the brave Gideon was know just yet.  He was scared of his father's household so he takes a few trusted servants and under the cover of darkness they do as the Lord commanded.  The next morning, the destroyed altar of Baal is discovered and they know somehow that Gideon was the one who did it.  The men of the city asks for Gideon's head, but Gideon's father decides to remember which god was really God.  His father basically says that if Baal is a god, he can deal with Gideon himself.  In other words, he challenged the reality of Baal and Gideon was ultimately spared.  Gideon I am sure had a boost in his fledgling faith.
We will end here today as the rest of chapter 6 and through chapter 7 we will learn about Gideon and the battle for Israel.  We have much to learn from today's lesson.  Today we learn about God calling us into service.  We all have a calling in our lives, but many of us never answer that call out of fear.  We are like Moses who questioned his ability to speak, Jeremiah is questioned how anyone would listen to someone as young as him, and like today's Gideon who could not fathom how someone so small can do something so great.  Unfortunately, many of us stay stuck there.  The amazing lesson of today is that it does not matter what ability and talent we may or may not have, when God calls us into service He will give us what ability we need.  In fact, God is more likely to call you into something that is so far outside your comfort zone or skill set that you could not possibly imagine that calling to be real let alone how you can ever do such a thing.  He does that because it is in those situations where you will truly trust God and His ability and not your own (because you know you have none).   And if that is the case, we also learn today, that God has no problem with honest doubt.  Please understand though what Gideon's doubt is.  He did not doubt that God could use him in mighty ways, he was making sure it was God telling him to do it.  The Bible tells us to test the spirits and that is what Gideon is doing.  Please understand also that God knows your heart and knows whether your tests are really tests or just a way to delay your compliance into what you know now that God is calling you to do.  You can fool others and even yourself to an extent, but you can never fool God.  Once you know it is God telling you to act, you need to act. 
I will close with a story from my own life.  I am a terribly shy person.  I would not wish shyness on anyone as it is where you are imprisoned within yourself.  Some people say that shy people have no personality. Nothing could be further from the truth, they have amazing personality but it is trapped inside.  A shy person is not someone who does not know how to be social, it is someone who can not get past their fear of being social.  And that is the tragedy.  You live in a world within yourself always struggling to find a way out.  I was and to some extent I still am that person.  Yet God called me to teaching.  Of course God had it wrong, I mean how could God call someone who (other than in his own mind) could not possibly speak publicly.  Not only that, but shyness also affects your ability to express your views and ideas.  For me, it is some complex mechanism of internal protections that do all that they can to prevent anyone from seeing who I am or what I believe.  For most of my life, I have been a person who played the parts of who I thought I should be at certain times never really sharing any kind of views I had with anyone I did not know exceptionally well.  Yet teaching is an expression of sharing what I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching to me. Even this blog, each and every day, I share my thoughts and ideas based on what I believe God is speaking to me and to be honest, it feels strange to me to talk about my blog to people who ask.  Back to teaching, I was never one to be able to imagine that I would be able to stand in front of a room of people (even teenagers) and teach.  Yet despite all that, I stepped out in faith.  I became a teacher in children's church at the church I was attending and one Saturday night I stepped in front of a class of about thirty students for the first time and gave the best Bible lesson ever.  Well, maybe not.  You see, I stepped out mustering my own strength thinking I could pull this off, but realized quickly that I was way out of my comfort zone.  I meant to talk for about 30 minutes and I do no think I made it to 10.  I talked fast , could not organize my thoughts, and finished in defeat.  I realized that I was still just as shy as I always was and that I needed to rely on God.  Since that realization, God began a mighty work in me.  Since then I have taught countless children's church classes, including a class of 70 the Saturday after 9/11. I preached the gospel to a yard full of Satanists that a brother in the Lord of mine befriended at an outreach he was doing (that is a story in an of itself!).  Several times a month I taught gang members, drug dealers, sex offenders, and all other sorts of youth criminals in a youth detention center.  And I have taught a group of brothers and sisters in the Lord longer than me at a weekly Bible study.  I am not saying all this to brag about my accomplishments because they are not my accomplishments.  I would never have been able to do any of that.  I am a shy man still to this day and in social situations I generally remain trapped inside myself.  That is who I am, but when it comes to following God and His calling in my life it is no longer about who I am.  I am shy, but who cares, because when I stand up before a group to share what God has called me to share it is no longer about me.  Paul said it best.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 NKJV
That is what it comes down to.  Do not be afraid of wherever God is calling you because it is not about you, it is about God and in Him we have nothing to fear.  Despite being shy, I can share with whomever God calls me because it is no longer I who live.  That same applies to you and whatever God is calling you to do.   I was hopelessly shy yet God called me a teacher.  Gideon was the weakest man in the weakest family in a defeated nation thrashing wheat in fear of being caught yet God called him a mighty man of valor.  What is God calling you?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NKJV

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