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The history of the Jewish people had various periods. One of these periods was the time of the Judges. This was the time after Joshua had brought the people into the promised land but God had not anointed any kings over them yet. Each tribe lived in its designated area and had its own tribal/family leaders. At times when the entire nation of tribes was threatened by an outside Lord or enemy, God would raise up a particular man (one time a woman) to protect, or judge or exhort the nation. These were called judges. Samuel was a judge and so was Samson.
Tonight, I want to talk about another one of these judges, Gideon, and how his story provides certain principles that pertain to our situation today here in Choctaw.
Background and History
God had promised His people when they left Egypt that if they obeyed Him He would bless them and if they disobeyed Him He would punish them in a variety of ways.
26"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; 28and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.
- Deuteronomy 11:26-28
God also promised that if they repented and called on Him, He would forgive them and save them from their enemies and problems. These two promises framed much of the history of the Jews from that time forward. They would begin well, with good intentions, but would soon fall into idolatry and immorality. God would punish them in some way:
- Allowing foreign nations to attack them
- Send natural catastrophes to befall them
Then when the Jews had had enough, they would cry out to God and He would send someone to rescue them. Someone who was a religious or military or political leader to bring the people together and help them persevere in trial or defeat their enemy. These people were called judges, and as I said, Gideon was one of them.
His story is found in Judges, chapters 6-8. The Lord had raised up Gideon to save the people at a typical low point in Israel's history.
1Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. 2The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. 4So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. 5For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. 6So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the Lord.
- Judges 6:1-6
The evil that is mentioned here is explained in Judges 2:11. The people had begun to worship Baal (a nature god whose worship included sexual immorality).
Baal was a name given by Canaanites to local male deities considered responsible for the fertility of the land. The word "Baal" meant master/possessor/husband. When the Israelites entered Canaan, they found that every piece of land had its own deity or "owner." This is why you see many different gods having the word Baal as a prefix and the names of the place added to it. For example,
- Baal - Gad
- Baal - Hamon
- Baal - Hazor
- Baal - Peor
Eventually, the place names were dropped and the term Baal became a proper name for this fertility god. The mythology of Baal describes him as a champion of the gods who battled the gods of chaos and destruction on the earth. This chaos was seen as drought and infertility among the people and animals, or floods from the seas.
Baal was a god of order and renewal in nature, responsible for the coming of spring and the growth and reproduction that came with it. This on-going battle among the gods was believed to be played out here on earth as the struggle for life seen in the cycle of the seasons. This focus on life and fertility explains why this religion used temple prostitutes for ritualistic sex.
It was believed that this type of activity empowered Baal in his battle with the forces of chaos. The stronger he was, the more the chaos was overcome, the more fertile the land, animals, and people would be. For a people who depended on the size of their family, number of animals, and sufficient rain in an arid part of the world to survive, worshipping this type of "nature god" was natural. The goddess "Ashtoreth" was the female version of this deity and we see symbols of her in the use of the Ashtoreth poles in pagan worship.
The Jews never completely abandoned the worship of Jehovah, but rather they began to add the worship of Baal to their worship of God (called syncretism). They worshipped the god of Abraham and went to him in time of crisis. (He had saved them mightily from the Egyptians and provided miraculously in the desert for 40 years.) They praised and worshipped Baal as the every day god who caused the rain to come and the people to be fertile.
This was easy to do given that by not eradicating the land of Canaanites as God had commanded, they quickly were influenced by the pagan practices of Baal worship (and the seductive idea of sexual activity wrapped in the cloak of religious practice).
This is where we find ourselves in Judges chapter 6. The people have practiced this type of idolatry in pursuing Baal worship for themselves. God has brought down a judgement on them in the form of attack from another nation.
God punished them for this by allowing a neighboring people to come in and pillage their crops and livestock every harvest. The people were so despondent over this that they were hiding out in caves trying to protect what little sustenance they could hide. After seven years, they cried out to God for help and He heard their prayers and decided to save them from the Midianites. This is where Gideon comes in.
11Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. 12The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior." 13Then 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 abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian." 14The Lord looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" 15He said to Him, "O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house." 16But the Lord said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man." 17So Gideon said to Him, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. 18Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You." And He said, "I will remain until you return."
- Judges 6:11-18
In vs. 11-18, we see him beating out wheat in a wine press (where grapes were pressed to make wine) in order to hide himself and his crop from the enemy. In the following chapters, we see the change that his life takes as God calls him to save his people from their enemy, the Midianites. His transformation from farmer to leader and the victory he won all came in stages and the book of Judges describes these in chapters 6-8.
1. He doubted his call
19Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. 20The 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. 21Then 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 sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, "Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face." 23The Lord said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die." 24Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it The Lord is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
- Judges 6:19-24
When the angel first called him to be a leader and save his people, he pleaded that he was weak and insignificant and he wanted a sign. After the angel miraculously burned up his sacrifice, Gideon accepted his call.
2. He overcame family obstacles
25Now on the same night the Lord said to him, "Take your father's bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; 26and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down." 27Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father's household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night. 28When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. 29They said to one another, "Who did this thing?" And when they searched about and inquired, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash did this thing." 30Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it." 31But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar." 32Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, "Let Baal contend against him," because he had torn down his altar.
- Judges 6:25-32
Gideon's own father was a Baal worshipper so God tested him by asking him to destroy the idols in his own home first. The result of this was that his father lost faith in these idols and defended his son's action against the other Baal worshippers who were angry with Gideon.
3. He needed reassurance
33Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel. 34So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. 35He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them. 36Then Gideon said to God, "If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken." 38And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39Then Gideon said to God, "Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground." 40God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.
- Judges 6:33-40
After successfully cleansing his own home, God asks Gideon to lead Israel against the Midianites. Gideon once again is unsure and asks for a sign which God gives him by providing dew on a sheepskin (fleece) and on the ground as Gideon requests.
4. He overcame his fear – Judges 7:1 and 8:21
When he decided to lead the people against Midian:
- 22,000 showed for war
- Of these, 10,000 left because they were afraid of going to war
- The remaining 12,000 were reduced to a mere 300 by the Lord.
He was outnumbered 500 to one by the Midianites, however, the Lord revealed to him that he would win the battle. Gideon surrounded the Midianite army that was camping in a deep valley. In the night, his 300 men each armed with a clay pot, a torch and a trumpet, broke the pots, and blared the trumpets and shouted war cries. The Midianites who feared that Israel had a great army, panicked and in the darkened confusion began attacking each other and ran away. Gideon captured the Midianite leaders and executed them thus ending the Midianite threat. His fear of facing such a great army with so few men was overcome as the Lord allowed him to overhear how much the Midianite army was afraid of him.
5. He Obeyed God
22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son's son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." 23But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you."
- Judges 8:22-23
After his great victory, the people wanted Gideon to be a king over them. They felt he had earned it. This was a great temptation but Gideon resisted remembering that God was the only king that the Jews had and he reminded them of that. "The Lord shall rule over you."
Sometimes when you're at the pinnacle of success, you are the most likely to fall, but Gideon managed to avoid their temptation.
6. He Disobeyed God
24Yet Gideon said to them, "I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil." (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25They said, "We will surely give them." So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. 26The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels' necks. 27Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. 28So Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon. 29Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives. 31His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. 32And Gideon the son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
- Judges 8:24-32
In the end however, Gideon replayed in his own life the cycle of obedience and disobedience that the Jewish nation had experienced throughout the centuries. After his victories, he received gold as part of the spoils taken from the defeated Midianites. He took them and made an "Ephod" which was a kind of breastplate worn by kings and priests. He also had many wives and a concubine to bear many sons. He refused to be king but he acted like one and his ephod was eventually seen as a kind of royal crest and help in honor by his people, his family and they began worshipping it. Eventually he died and after he died:
- The people fell back into idolatry as he had done.
- His illegitimate son, Abimelech started a civil war in order to gain power.
Gideon was a great hero of the people, a judge of Israel called by God as well as a weak and sinful man all rolled into one. His life however, the good and bad, provides several principles to guide our lives some 3,000 years later.
The Gideon Principles
1. Our Growth is in Stages
Gideon grew in stages as the Lord called Him, then encouraged him, then challenged him again and repeatedly provided help and strength. Several decades ago a few people were challenged to come and preach in this area. There was a small harvest of encouragement and so they planted a church here and decided to stay. If we look back every call to grow or step forward was rewarded when answered. We are in the process of being challenged by the Lord once again to step out in faith, to do something risky, to go beyond what we think we are capable of and if we answer that call, He will bless us and encourage us. Growth is never a straight line up. It's a stair step. For example:
- Steady work
- Steady growth
- Steady growth
We are at the point of challenge in our period of history. That's why it's steep and difficult.
Gideon discovered that when he met the challenge, when he responded to the call, God showed him that he would succeed. That principle has not changed in 3,000 years. If we respond and are faithful to follow through, the Lord will bless us as well and we'll make it to the next plateau.
2. If God Calls, He'll Provide.
- In the situation with his father's idols, God provided protection from the unlikeliest source, Gideon's own idolatrous father!
- In the battle with the Midianites, despite the terrible odds, God provided a plan and the psychological edge they needed to win.
- In the challenge to be king, God provided the wisdom to know how to answer the people without turning them against Gideon and his household.
God always provides:
- The right resources to do the job.
- Enough resources to do the job.
- The wisdom to use the resources in the right way, to do the job
- Don't look at how big our project is.
- Don't focus on the weakness of the men/women who are working on the project.
- Don't worry about having enough to finish the project (enough money; enough time; weather; what if people leave?).
Our job is to believe and trust in the Lord and His ability to:
- Make the project manageable
- Provide all those who will do it with wisdom to complete their tasks
- Provide enough to finish.
So long as we're "Building to God's Glory" and not our own, then the God who provided for Gideon's victory will provide for our victory as well. That's our real challenge, to keep believing God.
3. Man is a Mixture of Good and Bad
God is perfect, man is not. Gideon did not have the revelation of Christ to enlighten him, did not have the Holy Spirit to indwell him and he made tragic mistakes. We have the gospel and the Holy Spirit, but we still make mistakes, such is the power of sin in our lives.
Regardless of how noble our goal, how spiritual our intent, how badly we want to succeed to glorify God and obey His word, we're going to blow it as individuals and as a church at times. Despite his imperfections, God rewarded Gideon's efforts to serve Him. The land did have peace for all of his life and he died peacefully and was honored in God's word as a mighty servant of God. God knows we are a mixture of good and bad, that's why He sent Jesus; that's why He is gracious with us; that's why he blesses our efforts to serve Him. He doesn't ask us for absolute perfection. (Jesus has already accomplished this and offered it to Him on our behalf.) God asks us for perseverance in faith and hope and love.
In this time of challenge, growth, work, let's not ask of each other what not even God asks of us — perfection. Let's be patient and persevere with each other despite our imperfections; and remain faithful to the church and the important tasks at hand.
After Gideon's day, the Jewish people continued this cycle of disobedience and rescue for hundreds of years until their final disobedience, the rejection of Jesus, which was punished by the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman army. God did not rescue them this time, even when they called on Him to do so.
Many of our lives are like this. A continual cycle of promises and resolutions to do good or reform our ways and when things get better, we go right back to our old ways. God will always rescue you if you call on Him in Jesus' name. Even tonight if you need forgiveness, restoration, prayer and recognition, come and call upon the Lord in baptism or prayer and He will come and rescue you. However, don't wait until it's too late. One day He won't hear you call. Come now while God is still willing to rescue your soul.