Sunday, March 11, 2018


After the extended time of forty years in the wilderness, the Israelites finally were able to cross the Jordan and enter into the land of milk and honey. Sadly, the spiritual history of the people in that land was not much better than it was when they were in the wilderness.

The sixth chapter of the book of Judges in the Old Testament opens with these words: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.”

It is generally believed that the Kingdom of Midian was east of the Jordan River and to the South, extending down into the Arabian Peninsula. But the exact location of this land is not important to us at this point. We only need to know that from the account given to us in the book of Judges, these were foreign invasion forces that occupied the homeland of the Israelites with brutality. 

The Midianites seemed particularly intent on preventing Israel from becoming secure enough in their lives so that they would be able to muster up any kind of resistance movement against them. They practiced a type of burned earth policy in Israel.

Midian, long with some other eastern kingdoms, formed an alliance of nations of sort. Every year, they would send their invasion forces into Israel, seemingly with the sole purpose of bringing hardship to the Israelites.

The Midianites and others would come on camels in numbers like a swarm of locusts, bringing their livestock with them. They made camps in the fields and let their animals feed off of the crops that the Israelites had planted. They devastated the land and laid it waste. There was next to nothing remaining for the Israelites or for their own animals. They suffered greatly in hardship.

The situation became so severe that the people took to moving into the caves in the mountains and making strongholds there for protection. “Israel was brought very low because of Midian,” the text tells us. They had become impoverished.

The Valiant Warrior
It was in this state of affairs that an angel came one day to speak with a man named Gideon. Gideon at first did not know it was an angel. He must have had the appearance like any man. The angel came and sat down under an oak tree while Gideon was trying to thresh the little wheat that he had been able to salvage. He was doing this in the winepress—not the ideal place to thresh wheat. Threshing of grain is always done on a high hill or at least in an open area where the wind can carry away the chaff in the threshing process.

But Gideon was threshing his wheat secluded among the grape vines and the trees, and in hopes that he would not be discovered by the Midianites. When Gideon heard the man coming, he must have been relieved to learn that the man was not a Midianite.

The man sat down and addressed Gideon, “the LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.”

This was a strange greeting indeed, and if taken in the wrong way, it may have seemed like the angel was mocking Gideon in his deplorable condition.

But Gideon did not take it as a mockery. He instead responded in this way: “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” (Judges 6:13 NAS). 

The Gideon in All of Us
Perhaps all of us have asked that same question at some time in our lives. When we read of the miracles of the past and how God intervened in difficult situations, we also perhaps have wondered why God does not rescue us in some way when we are going through a particularly difficult time.

But the question of Gideon is not so much a question regarding individual situations and difficulties, but it has more to do with national and cultural adversity. The Israelites may have been living in the land of milk and honey, but the milk and the honey was flowing out of their land and instead benefiting those enemies who had come in, leaving the Israelites to live in a state of severe distress.

The question of Gideon is a question that all societies that are founded upon the ideals of the teachings of Jesus Christ must ask themselves when they cease to see the blessings of God upon their people or their land. It does not matter if the society is one of an entire nation, as it was in the case of Gideon, or a smaller one, such as a civic organization or a company based on Biblical principles. It even applies to the local church. Perhaps it applies especially to the church.

Living in a land that flows with milk and honey means nothing without the blessings of God.
As Gideon was pitifully threshing out his small amount of grain while hidden among the grape vines, he had no hope in things getting better soon. He had simply resigned himself to thinking that God had abandoned them as a people and that the Lord would not deliver the Israelites as he had in the past.

“After all,” Gideon must have thought, “those were just stories of things that happened long ago.”

There is no indication that Gideon did not believe that God had actually done those miracles, as if they were just fabricated fairy tales. No, it was not that. However, it is apparent that he did not think that God was going to deliver the people in his day. Gideon thought that he, along with all the other people of Israel, was destined to scratch out an existence by hiding what little food he had from the Midianites. He had no hope of things changing.

But the angel turned to him and said, “Go in this strength that you have, and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” 

“Who Am I?”
Deliverance begins here. Deliverance begins with God sending someone to act. Deliverance from an evil society, when it is done God’s way, does not involve a person of considerable strength and influence, and who by his or her own power, raises up a great force and begins a campaign against oppression. It does not involve a person who trusts so much in his or her own abilities and personality that they take it upon themselves to be the one to bring about change. These are not the people that God is seeking. He is not seeking those who have such a high opinion of themselves. We see this over and over in examples we have in the Bible.

Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)

The prophet Jeremiah said to God, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

When God called Solomon to become the king of Israel, the young king said, “O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” (1 Kings 3:7)

It was said of the Apostle Paul that his personal appearance was “unimpressive” and that his speech was “contemptible.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) Paul only came to be sent by God after he realized that he was nothing in his own strength. He called himself a “nobody” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).

Likewise, when Gideon was told to go forth in his strength, he responded, “Please, my Lord, how can I save Israel?”

Gideon seemed to be thinking, “What strength?”

Gideon could tell that this man who was speaking to him had no idea what he was suggesting. He thought that he should fill the man in on a few details.

He went on to tell the man, “My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”

But the man was not deterred. “I will be with you,” he responded, “and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

It seems that at this point Gideon began to suspect that this man was more than simply a passing stranger. Gideon now began to wonder if he perhaps was not speaking to a messenger of God.

“If it is as you say and I have found favor in your eyes,” Gideon ventured, “then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my offering to set it before you.”

When Gideon spoke of an “offering,” it was understood that it was an entire meal that he intended to prepare for the stranger.

The angel replied, “I will stay till you return.” 

Not a Fast-Food Meal
In those days, in saying that you would wait for a meal to be prepared, you had to be ready for a long wait.  Gideon did not go in to see what was in the freezer and then throw it in the microwave. He first prepared the meat from a young goat, and also made a broth. This meant that he first had to either slaughter the goat himself, or have someone else do it. Then he took some flour and made some bread. Thankfully it was unleavened bread, or the angel would have had to wait until the dough would rise enough to bake it.

I have had similar experiences to this when I visited homes in some remote areas of the world. The family insisted that I stay for a meal, and then, ten minutes after I accepted their invitation, I heard a chicken squawk in back of the house. I knew at that point that we would be having chicken for dinner.

I suppose that the angel may have heard a bleating of a young goat, and knew that the offering would be goat. When Gideon had the meal prepared, he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought it to the angel, who was still sitting under the oak tree.

The angel pointed to a rock next to him and told Gideon, “Take the meat and the bread and lay it on this rock, and then pour out the broth over them.”

When Gideon had done so, the angel touched the meal with the end of his staff. At the touch of his staff, fire sprang up from the rock and consumed both the meat and the bread instantly. Then the angel vanished and was gone.

Face-to-Face With God
Gideon was now convinced that this was no ordinary wandering stranger, but was an angel of the Lord God. So astounded was he by this realization, he exclaimed out loud, even though the angel had disappeared, “Alas, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”

As I have mentioned at other times, very often in the Old Testament when we read of the appearance of the angel of the Lord, it seems not to be merely one of the myriads of angels, but is a preincarnate appearance of Christ himself. This type of appearance is what Bible students call a theophany.

The fact that he had seen the Lord face to face was a frightening thing to Gideon. He said, “Alas, O LORD God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”

Seeing the face of God, Gideon thought that now he would surely die. It was not without reason that he felt this way, for as God had plainly told Moses at one point on Mount Sinai when Moses asked God if he could see his glory, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

Nevertheless, in that very same chapter of the Bible, we learn of what was called “The Tent of Meeting,” where Moses would meet with God. In that place, we are told, God spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11).
What Kind of Animal is an Anthropomorphic?
The difficulty here is our understanding of the true nature of God. Although it is true that Gideon saw God and even saw his face, the angel of the Lord that he saw was not the full “glory of God,” as Moses had asked to see. In fact, the Apostle John tells us that no man has ever seen God (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12), even though John himself was under the teaching of Jesus Christ for three years.

The Bible often speaks of God as having a face; it speaks of the hands and feet of God, and his of mighty right arm. There are other references as well that give God human attributes. But Jesus told the woman at the well that God is actually Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
But this is something that we cannot comprehend. We have a definition for a spirit, but we cannot actually understand in our minds what a spirit is. To fully grasp a person or an object mentally, we need to be able to visualize it in some way. A spirit we cannot visualize. So, in order to help us out, God often speaks of himself as having human characteristics.

This involves the use of a fifty-cent word: Anthropomorphism. The definition of this word is just that—it is when we give human characteristics to God, or even to other things that are not human. It is like saying, “the winter wind slapped me in my face with its icy hand.”

Moses asked to see the full glory of God, but God knew that if he should see his full glory, he could not bear it and remain alive. John tells us that Jesus Christ came to show us a full representation of the person of God, yet veiled in human form. He did this so that we could have a more complete understanding of who God is (John 1:14-18).

Gideon had also seen the face of God, but it had been in a veiled form. Thus the Lord told him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.”

Upon hearing this, Gideon built an altar to the Lord, and to commemorate the event, he called it, “The Lord Is Peace.” 

The Lord of Peace Stirs Up Trouble
The Lord is Peace, but what God next instructed Gideon to do was something that would definitely cause trouble. In fact, there was a significant likelihood that it would cause great trouble with his own father.

God told Gideon to take his father’s bull and pull down an altar to Baal that the father had on his own property, and then to cut down the Asherah that stood beside it. Both of these were local gods, gods that the Lord God specifically warned his people against. The worship of these idols was at least part of the reason why he had allowed the Midianites to overcome their land.

When the Israelites had cried out to the Lord because of the Midianites, God had earlier sent a prophet, who told the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you. For your benefit, I drove the people out of this land and gave it to you. I also had said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 6:8-10; see also Exodus 23:24).

Baal and the Asherah were the two main gods of the Amorites. Baal was typically the chief of the gods of the area, and the Asherah at this time was usually carved from the wood of a sacred tree, or perhaps was the tree itself.

But Gideon’s own father had disobeyed God in this by setting up the images of Baal and the Asherah. It even seems that these two statues were the idols for more than just his family, but also for the entire village.

Once Gideon had pulled down the statue of Baal and had cut down the Asherah, God told him that he was to make and altar to the Lord God in their place. Then he was to take a second bull, a different one, and from the wood of the Asherah, make a fire on which to offer the bull as a burnt offering to the Lord. It was to be a strong statement against the false gods of Baal and Asherah.

It is very apparent that Gideon is unsure of himself in all of this. He was unsure of himself from the beginning, and even in following the directions of God, he is timid in his manner of doing them. He decided that he would wait until it was dark when his father and the entire village was sleeping. He would do what God told him to do, but he wanted to do it at night in hopes of minimizing the scandal.

That same night, with the help of some of his servants, Gideon did just as the angel of the Lord told him. He used his father’s own bull to pull down his father’s altar to Baal. Then he also cut down the Asherah and made the burnt offering to the Lord God.

I am certain that in doing this act, Gideon was extremely nervous. He did not know what trouble this would bring to him. Gideon was not a confident young man. He seemed timid in all of his actions.

However, in the story of Gideon, we learn that in carrying out the work of the Lord, self-confidence is not a positive attribute. Rather than this, a high opinion of oneself is detrimental in doing God’s work.

Gideon shows us that the important element in the work of God is first being called by God, and then it is obedience to the call. It is simply doing what you have been told to do by God.

This is the strength to which the angel of the Lord was referring when he told Gideon to go in this "strength that he had" and save Israel from the hand of Midian. The angel was not talking about Gideon’s own strength, but the strength of the Lord. That strength is unleashed when God calls a servant to a task and when that servant then obeys.

King David learned this. Even after he had become the great king of perhaps the most powerful nation of his day, David learned that his real strength did not lie in powerful positions or in mighty armies. He wrote these words in Psalm 20:6-8:
Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. (Psalm 20:6-8 NIV) 

This is a lesson that Gideon was also to learn in the days to come. Even though after his actions in the tearing down of the Baal, he was to see a great rising up of warriors among the Israelites to fight the Midianites, God was to show him that this was not what would give him victory. 

I will continue this next week

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