Evangelist D. L. Moody was used tremendously for the Lord during the late 1800s. But if you had met him in his early years, you would never have imagined he would have a global impact for Christ.
In fact, when he was eighteen years old, he went to the deacons of a church to apply for church membership. Following the interview, the deacons made him go through a year of biblical instruction because he knew so little about God’s Word. The following year he was interviewed again and was allowed to join, but with reservations from the deacons. He seemed an unlikely candidate for God’s service, but God would use him in a mighty way.
As we arrive at Judges chapter 6, there is no one less likely to be useful to God than a man named Gideon. He was an ordinary man, but he was available to God. And as my mother used to tell me, the greatest ability is availability.
As chapter 6 opens, that old cycle of sin and discipline starts all over again. In verse 1 we read:
The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.
The Midianites didn’t overrun the land; they just waited until the harvest and then swept across the Jordan River and stole Israel’s crops. Finally, after seven years of this, the Israelites cry out to the Lord.
And God calls an ordinary man to become Israel’s deliverer. Verse 11 takes us to that moment, and we read: “Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.” This work was normally done at a threshing floor, a flat area near the wheatfield. But Gideon is separating the wheat from the chaff by hand at a winepress. And that’s because this will be the last place a Midianite will come looking for grain.
And the Angel of the Lord (the Lord Himself) appears in some angelic form and says to Gideon here in verse 12, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Gideon doesn’t look much like a mighty man of valor, does he?
But the Lord adds in verse 14, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” God is promising victory here, not on the basis of Gideon’s power, but through God’s presence.
Later that same night, the Lord commands Gideon to pull down the local altar of Baal and burn the Asherah—that is, a wooden pole representing Asherah, the mistress of Baal—and build an altar for the Lord (verses 25-26). Essentially, Gideon will be declaring war on Baal.
By the way, Gideon will be doing this in his own backyard. According to verse 25, this altar to Baal belongs to his own father. It is there on the family farm. And Gideon is so afraid of what will happen, we’re told in verse 27: “Because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.”
He did it in the middle of the night. But don’t be too hard on him; sometimes the hardest place to represent the Lord is in front of unbelieving family members and neighbors. PQ Maybe you have discovered that it’s easier to share the gospel with perfect strangers than with your own parents.
Let me show you three results from Gideon’s obedience to God.
First, the entire city explodes in anger. When the villagers discover what has happened, they demand that Joash, Gideon’s father, turn his son over to them. They say: “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it” (verse 30).
Note the irony here: Israelites want to kill Gideon for removing an altar to Baal. This shows how far Israel has fallen spiritually.
The second result is that Gideon’s father takes a stand. Verse 31 says:
Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend [fight] for Baal? . . . If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.”
Joash has been the shrine keeper of Baal all these years, but now he defends his son’s actions. He knows Gideon is right; he also knows this is something he should have done years ago.
The third result is that Gideon’s reputation is established. In verse 32 he is given a nickname: “Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal.” Jerubbaal means “Baal contender,” the man who fights against Baal.
Now it’s going to take more than a nickname to defeat the Midianites. That is why we read in verse 34 that wonderful phrase, “The Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon.” Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Gideon blows a trumpet, and people gather to him and prepare for battle.
But Gideon is still afraid; in fact, he has some serious doubts about all this. He’s not a warrior; he’s a farmer. So, he goes back to the Lord in verses 37-38 and says:
“Behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.
Well, that settles it, right? Not quite. You see, God had already promised Gideon victory. When you’re doubting the word God has already spoken, putting out a fleece won’t bring peace of mind.
So, Gideon goes back to God and reverses the test in verse 39, asking that the fleece stay dry this time while the ground gets wet. And God graciously responds again.
Now I don’t have to tell you how popular Gideon’s practice is to this day. Many Christians use a “fleece” to try to determine God’s will. “Lord, if the phone rings tonight at eight o’clock, I’ll take option number 1; and if it doesn’t, I’ll take option number 2.”
This isn’t trusting God; it’s testing God. We’re not trusting Him to lead us; we just want an answer, and we want it now.
Beloved, laying out a fleece doesn’t develop your faith; it distracts your faith. Gideon’s fleece had nothing to do with God’s word; God had already delivered His promise of victory.
Now, let’s be honest; we all suffer the same weakness as Gideon. We all want answers; we want some sign of encouragement or direction. Why? Because our faith is weak.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord has already promised to take care of you and lead you and direct you and eventually take you home? God’s Word says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him [put Him first] and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Let’s not test the Lord; let’s trust the Lord, each step of the way.
And along the way, let me recommend you keep that fleece stored away in the attic. Instead, pray for wisdom, get counsel from wise believers, discuss options with your spouse, consider your hidden motives, and above all, saturate your mind with the Word of God and trust His promises.