Judges Lesson 4 - Backyard Beginnings
The sovereign work of God in Gideon's life reminds us that God uses simple, ordinary believers to do extraordinary things for His glory.
D. L. Moody. . . in May 1855, an 1855, an 18 year old went to the deacons of a church in Boston. He was applying to join the church - refused. Put on a year long instruction. . . barely received the next year. His Sunday School teacher (led him to the Lord) wrote:
I can truly say that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday school class and I think the committee of the church seldom met an applicant for membership who seemed more unlikely to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth, still less to fill any space of public or extended usefulness.
It has never ceased to thrill me to see God pick the underdog.
As I read and reflected over the story of this man, Gideon, it became apparent to me that what I was reading, could be the in many ways the same story of most believer's lives; for what I was reading was the biography of an ordinary believer. . . someone who struggled to grasp the basic truths of God's spirit and word.
We pick up the story in chapter 6 - Deborah has died. . .
For 7 years the people have been oppressed by the Midianites. They would sweep into the land at harvest time and robe the Israelites of their produce; they didn't inhabit the land; they simply waited until the harvest was ready. Then, they would move in from the desert, cross the Jordan in huge numbers, and overwhelm the land. . . every year, as sure as income tax, Midian's buzzards came. The Israelites were forced to dwell in caves - living in fear and despair. So Israel cried for relief.
God responds by sending a prophet. That would be like a stranded motorist calling a garage for assistance and the garage sending an automobile manual instead.
So, the prophet comes and preaches: 6:8 ". . . Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, It was I who brought you up from Egypt, and brought you out from the house of slavery.
v. 9 And I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land,
v. 10 And I said to you, "I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.
God want them to understand why they are having the difficulty. Like Israel, we may want to escape or circumstances while God wants us to interpret our circumstances. Sometimes we may need understanding more than relief; sometimes God gives us insight before He gives us safety. We may want out of a bind = God may want to show us our rebellion.
The theme of this entire chapter is failure to obey the revealed will of God. The people and Gideon, as we'll see later, had great difficulty obeying the plain, revealed will of God. And so do we!
The God of grace, however, responds to His people's cry and sets in motion the wheels of deliverance.
THE CALL OF GIDEON
SCENE 1 An Angelic Visitation (6:11-24)
Read verse 11. "Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezerite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites."
Let me set the scene for you.
The usual old-time eastern threshing floor was an exposed area, prepared and levelled for the purpose, near the field where the wheat was grown; normally, a man would thresh wheat on a wooden threshing floor, using a threshing sledge/stone slab pulled by oxen; the farmer usually stood on top of the stone as it was drug along the ground until the wheat had been separated from the chaff.
But here, the man of the hour is first discovered threshing wheat by hand. . . at the wine-press; the least likely place a Midianite would look for anyone threshing grain. Gideon, at this time, a middle aged man, was, like all the others in terrified by the enemy.
At this very moment - the angel appears . . . now note: vs. 12. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior."
Note: Gideon doesn't know who the angel is - we do! This is the Angel of the Lord - a theophany - God taking on physical form to manifest Himself to man. Note verse 14a - "And the Lord looked at him and said," - this isn't one of the angelic host - this is spirit God taking a human form to deal with Gideon personally.
And what's Gideon saying. . . verse 13. "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.
"Where is God, He's abandoned us, where are His miracles" HA!
Two tremendous truths in this conversation:
1) God never answers Gideon's questions!
No details are given to the question - WHY? Why is life so hard; where is God; why are we oppressed. . . But look at what God does say - Note: verse 14. And the Lord looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, Have I not sent you?!"
Summary - "I will be with you." Basically, God has nothing else or more to offer you. You can go through a lot with that promise. It does not answer all your questions about details. It only provides the essential - God is with you - and that is enough!
2) God refers to Gideon, not as he is, but what he will become,
"Thou mighty man of valor." That's what God has in mind for him. Jesus calls Simon, Peter - little rock! A rock is firm, strong - Peter sounded that way - "Lord, I'll follow you to the death." Less than 24 hours later, a servant girl says, "Hey, you're one of Jesus' disciples." Peter says, "Who me. . . no way." A rock? Jello is more like it.
And what does God call you - a saint! Paul writes to the believers in Rome - "To those beloved of God, called saints!" TURN AND INTRODUCE YOURSELF - "Hello, I'm Saint John."
"Gideon, I know what you are like; and you are no Richard of the Lion Heart. . . but I also know what I can make of you. . . by my power - if you are willing."
In verse 19 we find Gideon asking for a sign and preparing a meal. . . let's pick it up with verse 20. And 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. (remember this is famine conditions! broth, goat, bread!) And he did so.
v 21. 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 five sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight!
WOW! It's at this point that Gideon realizes the identity of the man he'd been talking to. He's filled with fear. WHY? Abraham, Joshua and many others had also seen the Angel of the Lord and not died. God responds in v. 23. And the Lord said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die."
I believe that Gideon was humble, and his response was much like Isaiah's after he saw a theophany - a visible expression of God's glory - "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips."
Let me suggest - a direct encounter with God apparently causes a child of God to recognize his own sinful unworthiness.
We have a lot of talk these days about self-esteem, feeling good about yourself - yet I find people in scripture who have come fact to face with God's holiness have also been overwhelmed by their sinfulness! I believe true self-esteem begins with the holiness of God and a recognition of our sin - as well as a recognition of God's grace and design to make us something of great value and worth.
The balance of who God is and who we are who will keep us from groveling in self-dejection and introspection and also keep us from bloating with spiritual pride.
So Gideon is introduced to His sinfulness - God encourages Him with a statement of his grace. . . then look what happens. The same thing that will happen in our lives as well! v 24. Then Gideon built an alter there to the Lord and name it "The Lord is Peace." In other words, Gideon worshipped God.
as the curtain closes on scene one - the setting is worship.
SCENE II opens in verse 25. Later that same night; God speaks to Gideon and begins the process of making Gideon into the faithful leader that he will become. Let's pick it up at v. 25. Now the same night it came about that 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.
v 26. And build an altar to the Lord, you 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."
I'd like to refer to this event - "The Alamo of faith." The Alamo - if you remember your Texas history - was a small mission church in San Antonio; but in 1836 it became the scene of some very dramatic events; Texas declared itself independent of Mexico - sent an army led by General Santa Ana. Gathered inside the Alamo was a group of men, including Davy Crockett. They faced 3,000 soldiers - Colonel W. B. Travis drew a line. . .
A simple choice, but a decisive one. Once they moved across that line, there was no turning back. Well, this event is the "No turning back event for Gideon." He would tear down the local shrine - managed by his father Joash, and literally take on the forces of Baal.
Where did Gideon start - in his own backyard!
The personal application none of us can be useful to God in the public sphere is we are not putting him first in our private sphere! If my commitment dose not first affect my home life. . .
And by the way, you cannot have an alter to God and an altar to Baal on the same piece of real-estate. We cannot limp between two altars. . . like Augustine who prayed as a young man, "Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet."
In many ways, God was asking Gideon to fight the most difficult battle first. Often the very hardest place to represent Jesus Christ is in your own family and with your closest circle of friends. It is easier to share the gospel with perfect strangers. . . God is basically asking Gideon to begin at home what he is going to begin on a national level. Baal must go. So Gideon slips out into the night and accomplishes the task.
Did you catch that read v. 27. Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and it cam about because he was too afraid of his fathers household and the men of the city to do it by day, that he did it by night.
TWO QUICK POINTS:
1) Faith is not demonstrated by fearlessness! God did not supernaturally remove Gideon's fears before he acted in faith! God doesn't scold Gideon by acting under the cover of night! Paul said in I Corinthians 2 "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling."
I've been watching the Winter Olympics - every time an American steps forward to compete, although I don't know them from Adam, I'm on the edge of my seat - "C'mon, let's beat those Germans." I've noticed now, with the onslaught of Television drama, many of these athletes are being highlighted, interviewed - even up to the moment of competition; "How do you feel - great!"
"Thanks for your time Gideon; I understand your God's man to confront the Midianites."
"Uh, I think so."
"Heh heh, you sure are a humble man . . . but I heard an angel of the Lord called you - referred to you as a valiant man."
"Yea, I guess so, I'm not too sure thought, I think I'll put out some fleece tomorrow to make sure God called the right man."
"I see . . . Well Gideon, for all our viewers out there who are pulling for you, what's your battle strategy?"
Um, I'm going to go out in the middle of the night so none will see me, and finish before anyone wakes up.
The interviewer would say, Cut - I thought we were highlighting a hero - someone sent us a chicken instead!
2) faith is demonstrated by obedience. "I'm just an ordinary John Doe - no great faith in me!" My friend, faith is not so much demonstrated by your attitude as it is by your actions."
God isn't calling fearless people - He requires faithful . . .
Take note: What God asked Gideon to do was an incredible challenge! Like a believer in Salt Lake City bulldozing the Mormon Tabernacle and building on the site a huge cross.
Three things happen as a result of Gideon's obedience:
1) The entire city is ignited with anger.
v. 28. When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the alter 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.
v. 29. And they 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.
v.30. Then 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."
Now remember - these are Jews speaking!! Depth of apostasy!
2) The father of Gideon is moved to courage.
v. 31. But 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.
Joash, the shrine keeper of Baal, is convicted by his son's courage. He is shamed and challenged. He knew that Gideon's action were right, and that he should have done the same years ago.
For those of you with small children, you know what it's like to be convicted by their words. This past Friday was family night out; it was late - way past their bedtime of 6 year old and our 4 year old daughter. We usually read and pray before bedtime - pajama's were put on, teeth brushed, now it's even later; I'm tired, Marsha's tired - the kids aren't! I said, "Okay, bedtime!" My daughter said - "Daddy, aren't we going to have commotions?" "Accurate!" My son says, "Dad, that doesn't please the Lord."
Here's Gideon doing what Dad Should have done! At that moment, Dad steps forward and defends his son with pointed words - if Baal is really a living god, let him defend his honor! Let him bring justice on my son - he alone should have that privilege!
3) Gideon's reputation is established as a leader
Father Joash gives Gideon a nickname which will set him apart as God's chosen leader . . . note 32. Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, "Let Baal contend against him," because he had torn down his altar.
That nickname lit. "Baal-fighter" "Baal-conqueror" Gideon moves from this point to call the tribes together to raise and army to fight against the Midianites.
D. The Consecration of Gideon (6:34)
Note verse 34. So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him.
35. And he sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphali, and they came up to meet them.
This text inform us that at this point, the Holy Spirit comes upon Gideon.
We need to understand the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. An understanding will clear up some difficult passages . . .
EXPLAIN OT FIRST - THEN NT
- did not indwell all OT believers
- indwelling was limited in purpose for special projects
- indwelling was limited in time departed from Samson, Saul best to interpret "indwelling" as "overwhelming"
- indwells all believers
- indwelling is comprehensive for ordinary life
- indwelling is permanent sealed, eternal (Jn 14)
Unique choice of words - "the Spirit came upon Gideon." Literally, "The spirit clothed Himself with Gideon." The Spirit of God put on Gideon like a suit of clothes; the emphasis then is on Gideon's submission and God's power!
If there is any similarity, it is this one point. The Spirit of God provides the power for living.
You become the clothing . . . the Spirit does the living!
The key to clothing is that it submits to the wearer! When I raise my arm - don't, I'm more comfortable this way.
When I take it to the cleaners - No, I don't like the hot water; I'd rather be wrinkled.
As I walk through the morning, my suit isn't saying; "No, not that way, this way!"
Howard Hendricks - "Lord, let me be your suit of clothes - walk around in me today."
Let me summarize:
Three Key Scenes . . . Three key events:
1) Gideon was confronted with the presence of God and he worshipped.
2) Gideon was challenged with the idolatry of his people and he obeyed.
3) Gideon was overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and he submitted.
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