Judges: Gideon, Testing the Waters
Trusting God, and God Entrusting us.
Text: Judges 6:25-40
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
"Last week I introduced you to Gideon, one of the most famous of the Old Testament 'Judges.' And we will be spending a couple of more weeks with Gideon, because his story is a lengthy one, and it’s a pretty fascinating one which is applicable to the story of our own lives in a whole variety of ways.
Last week we saw that Gideon lived in a time of fear. We also saw he was not immune from those fears himself. As usual, the Israelites had wandered away from God, and had been worshipping the idols of Canaan. So God had given them over to the power of the Midianites for a period of 7 years. And the Midianites were not a local people group who lived in Canaan and ruled over the Israelites for 7 years. No, the Midianites were a Bedouin people group who lived in the wilderness expanses and deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. But for those 7 years, the Midianites had been coming into the Promised land at harvest times to raid and pillage the crops and live-stock.
The Bible says they would come in droves so that it was impossible to count the number of men and their camels. It says they were like locusts swarming in and ravaging the land. They impoverished the Israelites. And the Israelites would hide from them up in the hills.
So God called Gideon to rise up as a 'mighty warrior' and save Israel out of the hands of the Midianites. The only trouble was, that Gideon was just as afraid of the Midianites as all the rest of his people were. When God called Gideon, he was hiding out in a winepress for fear of the Midianites. He didn’t feel like a mighty warrior at all. He said, 'God, I think you’ve got the wrong guy.' But God, in typical fashion, said, 'I will be with you, and I am sending YOU.'
So Gideon, in spite of his fears, responded to God’s call by offering himself to God, just as he was, fears and all. Today we come in on Gideon as God gives him his first set of instructions on what obedience to this call would look like. Let’s read Judges 6:25-40.
So the story of Gideon is a study in fear. And the question is: how does God address the fears of his people?
Last Sunday I ended the sermon by asking what fears are plaguing you at this point in your life. Fears of getting the Corona Virus may be finally receding for us, but are you now afraid of what going back to a 'normal life' will mean for you? Are you worried about going into crowded places with no mask on? Are you worried about coming back to a church service with people hugging and singing and breathing in each other’s space again? Or do those worries pale in the face of the cancer diagnosis you received? Or is it fears for your children and what they are facing in their lives at the moment that keeps you up at night? Or are you still out of work, and not being able to pay the rent is fearful prospect each month.
You see, we may not have Midianites rampaging through our neighborhood and stealing all our crops and cattle like Gideon did in his day, but we all have fears that plague us, and they are very real.
And in the story of Gideon we see God address the fears of his people in two primary ways.
1. First God reveals to His people who He IS and says, 'I am with you.'
2. And secondly, God reveals to his people who He is NOT, and says, 'Stop clinging to worthless idols in your fear. They are not me. They are not gods at all. They will only disappoint you.'
I believe those are two ways in which God addresses the fears of His people in every generation, including our own right now...today.
You see, it matters when God reveals Himself to us and says, 'I am with you,' that we know who the 'I' is who is speaking to us.
I said last week that courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of something more compelling that drives fears. When God reveals Himself to us and we discover who this 'I' is who says, 'I am with you,' that’s when our whole perspective on what we are afraid of gets rearranged.
God says to the Israelites again and again, 'I am the God who brought you up out of Egypt and delivered you from the hand of your oppressors. I am the God who led you by hand through the wilderness for 40 years. I am the God who fed you manna and quail every day, and brought forth water from a rock to quench your thirst. I am the God who has proven my steadfast love and faithfulness to you again and again and again in every generation. I am the God who is with you now. So don’t be afraid, trust me, and I will deliver you from all your fears once again.'
But here’s the thing. If we don’t know this God, then we humans always do the same thing: we cling to some other idol of our own making hoping to find relief from our fears, comfort in our sorrows, safety in the midst of danger. If we don’t know the God who truly delivers on his promises, then we will depend on some other substitute who is not God, and who will ultimately fail us no matter how tightly we cling on to them. And even if we DO know the God who truly delivers on His promises, we sinful humans have a natural born tendency in our fears to turn to some other substitute who is not God and cling to that idol for help and hope.
This is what God’s people were doing in Gideon’s day. And it’s what Gideon’s own family and clan and community had been doing as a normal part of their lives in that day.
When God called Gideon to be a mighty warrior and deliver his people of Israel, the first thing God calls Gideon to do is to clean up his own household and get rid of the idols they have been clinging to.
In v. 25 God says, 'Gideon, take a bull from your father’s herd, a seven year old one (note that the seven years is the same period of time that the Midianites had been plaguing Israel) and God says, 'Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah Pole beside it. Then build a proper altar to the LORD your God and use the wood of the Asherah pole as the fuel for the fire to offer the bull as a burnt offering.'
You see, before God sends Gideon to deliver his people from the menace of the Midianites 'out there,' he sends him back to his house to deliver his family and neighbors from the bondage to idolatry which was 'right in their midst.'
And guess what? This was a fearful task in itself. It says in verse 27 that Gideon was afraid of taking on his family and neighbors in this way. So he did what God asked him to do, but did the deed at night rather than in the day time so no one would see him.
You see, there are all kinds of fears we face in life, and sometimes it’s our own family and friends we can be afraid of. We can be afraid of standing up for what we believe and what we know is true when people we are close to and care about are not on the same page with us at all. We can be afraid of upsetting them, of challenging them, of disappointing them.
So, Gideon was afraid to take on his own family’s idolatry. And there was a good reason. Gideon’s own father’s name we are told is Joash. That’s a combination of 'Jo' from Jehovah, and Ash from Asherah. His very name tells us that Gideon had grown up in a family with a mishmash of faiths. They believed in Jehovah, the God of Israel, but they also had an allegiance to the local fertility gods of Canaan, Asherah and Baal.
So the name Jo-ash sort of covers both bases, you see. And this is what Gideon’s family did. They had put up an altar to Baal outside the house in the front yard with an Asherah Pole next to it. Sure they believed in the God of Israel, and probably celebrated Passover and all the other Jewish holidays, too. But they also prayed to Baal and Asherah for fertile crops and good harvests. They were the local fertility gods. This is the world Gideon lived in and was a part of.
But when God appears to Gideon, the first thing God say is: 'Get rid of the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole. Tear them down. Burn them up. Rid the house and the whole neighborhood of this idolatry.'
And Gideon is obedient to do what God asked, but he is also afraid. His earthly father might be furious. But his heavenly Father has now revealed Himself, and Gideon is compelled to respond. So in the face of his fears Gideon does what God called him to do.
And look at what happened! The neighbors did get upset. They were furious! They demanded to know who had torn down the altar to Baal and burnt up the Asherah pole. And after careful investigation they discovered it was indeed Gideon, the son of Joash who had done this thing.
So they come looking for him. They were ready to string him up. They went to Joash’s house and demanded that Joash bring Gideon out to them because he deserved to die for this.
It seemed like Gideon’s worst fears were about to be realized. But then the most amazing thing happened. Joash came out and stood up for his son! Instead of being angry with Gideon, he defended his actions. Joash said to the angry men, 'What is wrong with all of us Israelites? Have you guys really come here to plead Baal’s cause? Have we become such idolaters that we would kill one of our own who actually stands up for YHWH, the God of Israel? I mean, really,' Joash says, 'If Baal is any kind of real god, then let Baal defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.'
And you know what? The angry crowd listened, and they walked away. They let it go! They said, 'Alright, we’ll let Baal defend himself. If he wants to contend with Gideon, then let him do it himself.' And they even gave Gideon a nickname, Jerub-Baal, which means 'let Baal contend.'
My friends, this was Gideon’s first experience of discovering that God could actually handle the things he was afraid of. It’s not that the fears weren’t real, but he learned that God could handle them, and deliverance might come in surprising ways. Gideon learned that if he would trust God and obey Him, God would be faithful to take care of him. And for God’s part, God saw that Gideon was willing to trust and obey, and because he was faithful in this little thing, God was ready to entrust him with more.
So in v. 33, when the Midianites and all their Bedouin buddies came swarming into the land of Promise again, God sent His Spirit upon Gideon and anointed him with power to now take on the Midianites.
And Gideon responds again. He blows the trumpet in his home town and calls his clan of Abiezrites to follow him into battle. And he sends messengers throughout the surrounding territory to call his tribe of Manasseh to join them. And he sends other messengers to the neighboring tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali to come and join the army, too.
And it is then, in the days leading up to the actual battle that that Gideon asks God for another sign, two signs in fact. He says, 'God, if you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised–look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If in the morning there is dew only on the fleece, but all around the threshing floor is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by may hand, as you said.'
And that’s what happened. The next morning, there was enough water in the fleece that he could ring it out. But the ground all around it was dry.
But Gideon goes to God in prayer again and says, 'Oh, God, do not be angry with me, but let me ask for one more sign. Let’s do this thing with the fleece once more, but this time let the ground of the threshing floor be all wet tomorrow morning with dew from heaven, but let the fleece of lamb’s wool be dry.'
And once again, the next morning it was just as Gideon had asked for. The ground was wet, and the wool was dry.
Now my friends, do you see Gideon’s personality on display here. He is still not a 'mighty warrior' in temperament or personality. He is anxious, and cautious, and needs encouragement.
But he is following God and seeking to be obedient to God. I just want us to see that having God be with him didn’t mean that his fears just went away. Gideon didn’t have to change in order for God to use him. God was ready and able to use Gideon just as he was.
And God also knew that the world Gideon lived in was a fearful place. And God was well aware that the battles He was asking Gideon to engage were fearful things in themselves.
So God did not chastise Gideon for being afraid, or for asking for signs and seeking re-assurance. No. He met Gideon right in the midst of his fears and revealed himself to Gideon in all kinds of ways to assure him that He was with him, just as He had promised to be.
And you know what? God also knew that these particular signs He was giving Gideon were not just for Gideon alone. Gideon had assembled 32,000 men from all over his region to come and fight with him. And everyone of those Israelite men had been living in fear of the Midianites for 7 years, just like Gideon. And the Midianites were now camped out in the Valley of Jezreel from one end to the other. And the Bible says there were so many of them you couldn’t count the number of men and camels. So they were fearsome sight to behold, and they were fearsome fighters in combat.
My friends, these signs from God were not just for Gideon’s sake. Gideon’s troops needed to know that God was with Gideon, too, and with them! They needed to know that God was on their side in this battle to come, and that He was the One who was going to give the Midianites into their hands. And I bet all those Israelite troops were glad that Gideon asked God not just for one sign, but for two. It was the assurance they all needed to get up and take on the enemy the next day right in the face of their fears.
Well next Sunday we’ll tell the story of the remarkable battle and the crazy battle plan God asked Gideon to follow. But for today, I want us to reflect on our own lives for a moment.
Do you know the God who comes to us and says, 'I Am with you'? And has that God revealed Himself to you by His Holy Spirit so that you know who this 'I' is who is with you? That he is the God 'who forgives all your sins, and heals your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.' That he is the God who works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed, who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Who does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, but instead removes our transgressions and idolatries 'as far from us as the east is from the west.'
Do you know this God who reveals himself like that, and promises to be with you, to never leave or forsake you?
Or have you become aware today of a nagging inner sense that maybe you have actually been clinging to idols in your life? In the face of this fearful world and your own inner anxieties and insecurities, you have latched onto something other than God to try and make you feel better? The question is: What is it that you think you need to have in order to be ok? Ask yourself that, and think about it for a while. Deep down, what is it I think I need to have to be ok?
Whatever it is may not be a bad thing in and of itself, but if it is a substitute in your life for God, then it has become an idol. And like with Gideon, God asks us to let go of our idols before we do anything else. He asks us to cleanse our own hearts and homes of our idolatries, so that He might be our God and we might be His people. It is when we step out in faith and obedience that we then begin to experience God’s faithfulness and mercy and the peace of His presence.
It doesn’t mean we will never be afraid, because this is a fearful world, and following God can at times lead us into valleys of the shadow of death. But God says even there we need fear no evil, because he will be with us. This assurance can be yours today."