Judges: Gideon and the Call of God
Pentecost Sunday and God's Unexpected Plans.
Text: Judges 6:1-24
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
"Turn with me once again to the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, and this time to chapter 6:1-24.
Today we come to meet a man named Gideon, whom God raised up to be a Judge and a deliverer of His people. Gideon is one of the most famous of the Judges of Israel, and his story is one of the longest stories in the Book of Judges. His story takes up all of chapters 6, 7, and 8, and each of them are lengthy chapters. So we will be hanging out with Gideon for the next few weeks.
And I think you might like that, because of all the Judges in the Book of Judges, Gideon is the one who is the easiest for us to relate to and identify with. He’s just a regular kind of guy. And he is full of the same kinds of fears and insecurities that you and I have as he tries to live out his life in a complicated world where nothing in his life ever seems to go quite the way he imagined it. So listen now to the beginning of Gideon’s story from Judges 6:1-24, as the Lord comes to Gideon and calls him to join God in what God has in mind for his people of Israel.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “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.” The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “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.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.” Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Gideon’s story begins with the same pattern we have seen throughout the Book of Judges: The Israelites have once again been sinning and doing evil in the sight of the Lord, and so at this point God has handed them over into the hands of the Midianites.
Now the Midianites are an interesting enemy to be plaguing the Israelites at this point. Because the Midianites were not a local people group living in the land of Canaan, or even next door to the land of Canaan. The Midianites were from the Arabian Peninsula just across the Red Sea from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Midian was where Moses escaped to when he ran away from Egypt after having killed the Egyptian slave driver. Midian is where Moses got married and had kids and tended sheep before God called him to ministry. Midian is where the Israelites camped out for years after they had crossed the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus.
But the Israelites had left the land of Midian behind when God led them all the way to the Land of Promise, the land of Canaan.
So what are the Midianites doing in Canaan overpowering the Israelites in Gideon’s day? Well, they are raiding and marauding at harvest times. The Midianites are not interested in the land of Canaan for any other purpose than to steal and plunder the bounty of the fertile crescent which was Palestine in that day. The Midianites were Bedouins. They were nomadic. And they lived in the wilderness and desert regions. They had no interest in becoming farmers themselves. They didn’t want to conquer anyone’s land and have to work it. They just wanted to raid the lands of other more settled peoples and steal their crops at harvest time.
And as we see here in Judges 6, they would come in droves like swarms of locusts. It says in verse 4 that they would come on their camels and camp out on the land all the way to Gaza, that’s all the way across Israel to the Mediterranean Sea. And they would ravage the land. It says they didn’t spare a single living thing for Israel. They took it all. And then they’d leave and go back to the desert. But the Israelites would be left impoverished.
And while the Midianites were camped out on their land, the Israelites would be hiding out in the mountains. It says in verse two that they would prepare shelters for themselves in the mountain clefts and caves and strongholds to hide out from the Midianites. They were living in fear.
So they cried out to the Lord for help. And it’s interesting that this time in the Book of Judges, God doesn’t initially send them a deliverer to save them from their enemies. This time, the first thing God does is send them a prophet. We don’t even know the prophet’s name. But the prophet comes to speak the Word of the Lord to His people, and to tell them why it is that this trouble has come upon them.
He says quite simply, 'The Lord is the One who saved you from the hand of the Egyptians when you were nothing but slaves, and he brought you to this rich and abundant land and drove out the people’s before you so that you might dwell here as His people. All God asked of you was to have no other gods before Him...but you have not listened.'
And that’s all the prophet says. He sets up the problem for them, and then leaves it there. The question left hanging in the air is: will they listen now?
It’s then that God takes the next steps towards raising up a deliverer. He makes Himself known to an Israelite named Gideon to see whether he will listen. And right off the bat we see how God once again picks a rather unlikely people to be a deliverer of his people.
When the Angel of the LORD shows up under that oak tree, Gideon is actually hiding out in a cistern. It says he is threshing wheat in a winepress.
My friends, the winepress in those days was a big cistern dug into the ground in which grapes would be thrown at the harvest. Then people would climb down into the cistern and stomp on the grapes with their bare feet to squish the juice out in order to make wine.
But this was not a place where people would thresh wheat. So why is Gideon in this winepress threshing wheat? Because he is hiding from the Midianites, you see? It’s wheat harvest time, and the Israelites have mostly headed to the hills and are hiding out in caves and in shelters in the woods.
But Gideon is trying to save a little of his crop of wheat and thresh a little grain to make some bread. So he’s doing it in a grape cistern because he can’t be seen in there. He’s hiding what he is doing from the enemy.
And then Angel of the LORD comes along and says, 'The LORD is with you, Mighty Warrior!' It probably scares Gideon half to death!
And initially it’s like a joke, my friends! Gideon is not a mighty warrior. He is not even a soldier. He is a farmer who is hiding in a grape cistern threshing wheat!
And Gideon certainly doesn’t think of himself as a Mighty Warrior. He says to the Angel of the LORD, 'Who me? I am just a guy from the smallest clan in my tribe of Manasseh, and I am the youngest son in my family.' 'I am a nobody,' Gideon is saying.
But the Angel of the LORD says, 'But I am sending you to be a savior of My people. I will be with you, and you will strike down all of the Midianites.'
And here’s the second part of the joke: God was serious when he called Gideon a 'Mighty Warrior!' It wasn’t at all who Gideon was in himself. But it was indeed what God was calling him to be for God and for His people.
Yet, what we will see throughout Gideon’s story, is that God doesn’t change Gideon’s personality to make him a Mighty Warrior. No, we’ll see throughout his story that Gideon remains a nervous, cautious and rather insecure person. The word 'fear' gets used again and again in his story. He is constantly asking God for a sign that will prove that what God says is true. And when God gives him one sign, Gideon says, 'Well, that was pretty good, but can you just give me one more? Just to be sure?'
And God does! God encourages Gideon every step of the way. And amazingly enough, God and Gideon together overcome the mighty Midianites in a miraculous way.
But all of that is for the weeks to come. On this particular day, when God first shows up and makes Himself known to Gideon, it’s interesting what kind of sign Gideon asks for at first
He says in verse 17, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, Lord, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please don’t go away until come back and bring my offering and set it before you.'
And God says, 'I will wait until you return.'
And then Gideon goes and prepares a very costly offering for his heavenly guest given the circumstances. The meat of a young goat, with the broth it had been cooked in, and a bunch of unleavened bread. Remember, the Israelites were impoverished at this time, and Gideon is threshing a little wheat in a grape cistern. This food he presents to God is costly to him. That’s food for his family for a week. But he presents it to God as a sacrificial offering.
And the 'sign' God gives him back, is that God receives the offering by touching it with his staff and instantly vaporizing it. The offering is burnt up and completely consumed. And the Angel of the Lord disappears.
And Gideon now knows for sure that this 'Angel of the Lord' who had appeared to him out of the blue, was God Himself. And he says, 'Ah Sovereign Lord, I have seen you face to face!' Now he’s afraid he is going to die, you see. He thought that no one could see the face of God and live.
But the voice from heaven speaks to him, 'Peace. Don’t be afraid. You are not going to die.' So Gideon builds an altar of rock right there, and calls it, 'The Lord is Peace.'
Now there are a few things I’d like us to pay attention to in all of this.
1. The first is that the 'sign' Gideon asks for here has to do with an offering he is going to make to God, and what God will do with it.
That really struck me this week. I don’t know about you, but usually, when I feel in need of some kind of sign from God to give me assurance, I am looking for God to do something significant for me. I am looking for God to offer me something to show that He cares for me.
But here when Gideon first asks for a sign, he makes an offering to God to show how much he cares for God. And the sign Gideon seems to be looking for is whether God will receive it, and what God will do with his offering.
And since this comes as Gideon’s response to God calling him to be a Mighty Warrior and deliver his people, there’s also a sense in Gideon’s offering that he is offering himself to God. With this offering of the little that he has in this impoverished time, Gideon is saying, 'I am not much, and I am certainly no mighty warrior in myself. But if you will have me, and you want to use me then take me, receive me, I am willingly yours.'
And God receives both offerings, the food on the rock, and Gideon himself. Because God was calling Gideon not according to what Gideon was in himself or what Gideon had to offer. God was calling Gideon according to what God had in mind for Him, and according to what God was going to do in and through him.
You see, God had a plan for Gideon that far exceeded anything Gideon had in mind, or anything he was capable of doing. All Gideon needed to do was be willing to offer himself to God, and that is what he did in this offering.
And here’s the thing: as a result of God receiving Gideon’s offering of himself, Gideon would now be all in. He would follow God’s call on his life, and he will do so right in the midst of his fears.
2. And this is the second thing I want us to pay attention to here: The call of God and even the presence of God in his life do not cure Gideon’s fearfulness.
I don’t know about you, but I find that so encouraging! Courage does not mean the absence of fear. In Gideon we see that courage is instead the presence of something more compelling that drives us to act in spite of our fears, and right in the face of our fears.
A mother or father will run into a burning house to save their child who is asleep upstairs in a crib. The fear of the fire itself is nothing compared to the fear that their child might die. The love they have for their child compels them to put their own life at risk.
Well, the presence of God showing up in Gideon’s life that day at the winepress would change the course of his life.
The thought of him being a mighty warrior who would save his people from the Midianites was laughable at first. He was afraid of such a call on his life. He was not ready to take on any Midianites. He was hiding from Midianites. But he was compelled to follow the God who had called him to this, because he had now seen who God was. So in spite of his fears, Gideon would begin to take risks in his life that he never would have taken otherwise. And he would begin to see God do things in and through him which would eventually make him a mighty warrior.
Who knew?! Well, God did. And his word to Gideon was simply 'I will be with you.' And Gideon listened.
3. The third thing I want you to notice today is how much like the call of Moses this is.
When God called Moses at the burning bush in the land of Midian to go into Egypt and set His people free, Moses responded then just like Gideon does here. 'Who me?' Moses said. 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? I can’t even talk very well.' But God says, 'I will be with you.'
The interchange between God and Moses is so much like this interchange between God and Gideon. And the fact that it’s the Midianites who are oppressing Israel at this point makes me think that Gideon knew this full well. The thing that was so scary to him was that God was saying, 'My people need deliverance and you’re the new Moses!'
But perhaps Gideon was eventually encouraged by the comparison knowing that Moses was an unlikely candidate to be a deliverer when God called him as well. Knowing that Moses was well acquainted with fears and anxieties, too. But knowing that Moses somehow said 'Yes,' to God anyway, and in spite of those fears just kept putting one foot in front of the other as he followed God on a journey that would change the world.
So what fears are you living with today? You might not have Midianites attacking you so that you are hiding out in a winepress, but we are just coming out the other side of a global pandemic that has thrown us all out of our normal rhythms and routines. Are you worried about transitioning back to some kind of 'new normal' whatever that might be? Or are you facing some other kind of adversities in your life? Health issues, conflicts in your family, pressures at work? Or are you looking for work and wondering in the meantime how to make ends meet?
The adversities we face in life are not necessarily a judgment of God like these Midianites were for a time to the people of Israel. But all adversity in our lives can be an opportunity for God to show off his glory And though we might be full of fears and insecurities in the face of life’s trials and adversities, the question is: do we know who God is? Do we trust that God can be with us right in the midst of those adversities, and right in the midst of our fears?
Gideon can be a model for us of how we can simply offer our lives to God, just as they are. How we can offer ourselves to God just as we are. With Gideon we simply say, 'Ok, Lord, here I am, how would you like to use my life and the current situations I am facing for your good purposes? I don’t have much in and of myself to offer you, Lord. But what I have I give to you. Give me a sign that you will receive it, and then take and use me and the situations I find myself in to show forth your amazing grace and power and presence and faithfulness.'
That’s not a bad prayer to pray on Pentecost Sunday. For Pentecost is a day when we celebrate how God delights to pour out His Spirit on women and men, young and old. By coming to dwell in us by His Spirit, that IS the sign that God has accepted us just as we are through His Son Jesus Christ. By giving us His Spirit God is promising us that He will be with us, and will empower us to face any adversity and any adversary and use it all for our good and His glory.
Let us pray for that outpouring of God’s Spirit today."