Today we are continuing our journey through the book of Judges, looking at Judges 6: Gideon—The Lord is With Him. Israel has turned away from the Lord again and now God looks to an insignificant man to be his deliverer, insignificant even in his own eyes, yet God calls him “mighty warrior.” Because Gideon thinks so little of himself, he asks God a number of times for a sign to give him confidence that God is really with him. We’ll reflect on our own confidence in Jesus.
Gideon—the Lord is With Him
The pattern continues, Israel turns back to God each time God raises up a deliverer to save them from their enemies who God is allowing to oppress his people because they love other gods more than they love their own God, but as soon as their deliverer dies, the Israelites turn back again to the gods of the nations who keep failing them worship them beside God. God then allows those nations and their gods to once again oppress his people so that when they experience the failure of the other gods to give them what they want, they’ll turn back to the only God who has committed to being their God and who chose them to be his people.
Augustine said that sin is ultimately a lack of love, either for God or for your neighbor. He famously stated that “The essence of sin is disordered love.” Disordered love is about loving less-important things more, and the most important things less than we ought to, and this wrong arrangement of loves leads to unhappiness and disorder in our lives. Think about what James says in his letter to the church, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James is telling them that they love the wrong things more and Jesus and God too little; this is sin, this is chasing after other gods, just like the Israelites in the days of the Judges.
Now God does something a little different. Before raising up a new deliverer for Israel after Midian cruelly oppresses the Israelites for 7 years, God sends a prophet to Israel who tells them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you, their land. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” What a devastating accusation against God’s people after all that he’s done for them and who God has been for them over the generations.
God reminds them of who they are; they’re his people, their identity lies in God, not in themselves, their ethnicity, the other gods and idols they keep chasing. This is a reminder to us today as well that our identity is not found in the things or people others find important and special, it’s not found in ideologies or political parties, or in our own bodies and sense of self, but it’s found in having been created in the image of God, given life by him, and being called by Jesus to follow him and be his disciples. Our identity is found in belonging to Jesus and being part of his body.
After sending his prophet to remind Israel of who they are and how they have broken covenant with God, God then shows he refuses to break his covenant with them by calling Gideon to go and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. The Lord comes to Gideon with these words, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” God is telling Gideon who he is, a man God is with and so he’s a mighty warrior. The Lord’s presence makes Gideon a mighty warrior, but Gideon’s response is fascinating, he goes straight into blame mode, “Pardon me, my lord, but 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.” Gideon’s grumpy, but his words show that he’s heard the words of the prophet, but rather than being repentant about following other idols, he blames God for abandoning them. Gideon doesn’t even consider that it’s Israel who abandoned God, not the other way around. Gideon makes me wonder how often I’m so blind to my own sin that I can’t even recognize it or the consequences of my sin and blame the hurt on God instead of recognizing my own role and actions? This is part of the reason so many followers of Jesus fail to recognize just how deep their need for a saviour and deliverer is; we’re too comfortable with our disordered loves and don’t even see it.
The Lord doesn’t even bother answering Gideon. The Lord commands Gideon to go in the strength he has, challenging the objections Gideon is getting ready to offer about coming from a weak clan and being least in his family. Gideon fails to see himself through God’s eyes and words, instead embracing his own image of himself, an image that gives him permission to hold back to not engage in what and who God is calling him to do and be. Gideon shows a lack of trust in God’s power and presence; something many people still wrestle with today when things are difficult, and Jesus and the Spirit feel far away, and they doubt themselves as they see only their limitations instead of what Jesus can do through them and in them.
We don’t take Paul seriously when he says in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31, “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. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” When Jesus is with us, there is no need to doubt even if things don’t work out the way we expect or want them to.
The Lord answers Gideon with a word of great hope and reassurance, “I will be with you.” The Lord is still faithful to his covenant promise to be Israel’s God. Gideon’s still unsure and asks for a sign that the Lord is truly with, and he chooses a good sing, he seeks the Lord’s acceptance of his offering, asking for the Lord to wait while he gathers together his offering. The Lord tells him he will wait, so Gideon gathers his offering and brings it to the Lord and the Lord accepts his offering. Finally, it sinks into Gideon, “I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” The Lord offers him a blessing and word of reassurance, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” Gideon responds by building an altar there and calling it The Lord is Peace, the Lord is health, hope, fullness, and all about having a relationship with his people, all the images that rest in the Hebrew word “shalom.”
Now the Lord demands another offering on proper altar dedicated to God, an altar built after Gideon tears down his father’ altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it, then using the wood of the Asherah pole to give the Lord a burnt offering of a bull. Gideon obeys, though doing it at night with the help of 10 servants to make it safer for himself so that his family and the townspeople don’t know about it until after it’s done. Imagine their surprise when they all wake up and Baal’s altar is torn down and a new altar is in its place! They quickly discover that Gideon is behind it and demand his death. People hate it when you mess with their gods!
I love Gideon’s father’s response,“Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” He recognizes a God battle when he sees one and recognizes that if Baal cannot defend himself against Gideon or Israel’s God, then he probably is not able to do a whole lot for anyone else. What kind of God battles are going on in our culture, in our own personal lives right now? Do you truly believe that any of the things you love more than Jesus can do more for you than Jesus has done in washing your sin away on the cross, offering you a new life and the ability to leave you old life with all its brokenness and hurt behind while being enfolded by a family of Jesus followers who are here to encourage you and build you up?
God’s Spirit comes on Gideon, and he calls his family and other men from some of the closer tribes of Israel as they prepare to fight the Midianites, but Gideon seeks reassurance from the Lord one more time to make sure that God is more than simply a force of nature, that he has true power. He sets out fleeces twice, both times asking that the fleece is kept different from the elements and affects of nature and God provides the reassurance Gideon is seeking; Lord hears his people and is with Gideon.