Readings: Judges 6
In Judges 6, Israel had again fallen into sin, resulting in the LORD handing them over to the Midianites. For seven years the Israelites toiled under Midianite captivity. The Midianites took everything-all the crops, sheep, and donkeys. Verse 5 describes the Midianites as locusts; continuously plaguing the Israelites much like the locusts plagued Egypt at the time of the Exodus. They left nothing for the Israelites, no means of sustenance whatsoever. Their oppression was so bad that the Israelites fled their homes and hid in caves and dens in the mountains. Every year the Midianites would show up to steal more. As a result, in verses 6 and 7, the Israelites cried out to the LORD.
God Sends a Prophet
In verses 7–10, the LORD sent not a deliverer, but a prophet. This brings to mind the story of Deborah whom the LORD raised up after Israel cried out to Him. The prophetess Deborah was crucial in identifying the deliverer, Barak. In this passage, however, the prophet was sent to preach God's judgment upon His people. God sent a prophet because Israel needed more than immediate and easy relief. They needed to understand why they were being oppressed. The LORD was pointing out that there comes a time when His patience turns to judgment. He will not always be so easily manipulated by false cries of repentance from Israel. Israel was a fickle and sinful nation. Every time they sinned, God sent a deliverer, who would bring peace. Once they were delivered, they would fall into sin yet again. This time, instead of sending a deliverer, the LORD sent His prophet to formally accuse Israel of covenant breaking.
In verses 8–10, we read the prophet's message. His message should sound familiar. It recapped redemptive history and was to remind Israel of the covenant that they had broken. The LORD specifically reminded them of their offense against the first and second commandments.
We should not fail to see God's kindness in this. God was giving them warning, beseeching them to change their ways and obey Him. Instead of destroying them as they deserved, God gave them warning and instruction. God demands that we see our idolatry for what it is. We must understand the depth of our sin with the result that we will be more able to fight against it. God's discipline of Israel and of us is not the discipline of an employer punishing his lazy employee, but rather the discipline of a loving Father to His children with the purpose of correcting us and bringing us closer to Him.
After this message of judgment, we fully expect to read about another consequence, of suffering on account of Israel's failure to keep the covenant. The prophet has shown us that Israel deserved to be forever in their bondage. The narrator of Judges, however, abruptly ends the prophet's message to tell us of God's undeserved deliverer. As Dr. lain Duguid puts is, "We interrupt this message of judgment to bring you a savior!" This unexpected cut in the narrative truly highlights God's mercy. God sent a deliverer without the deserving of those under oppression.
This really should not surprise us. It is within God's character. Think of the ultimate deliverer God sent Jesus Christ. As totally depraved sinners, we were wallowing in our sin and misery (Romans 5:6–11). While we were still sinners enjoying and celebrating our sin, while we were still enemies and haters of God; God sent Christ to us. Not one of us asked for Christ. We completely enjoy and love our sin. On our own, we would have never even wanted to ask for Christ. But, while we were still in that totally depraved state, Christ died for us. The ultimate Deliverer came to a people who did not want Him. We need Him, oh so badly, but we did not want Him or ask for Him to come. But the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of this Deliverer works in us and brings us to Him, while we were still sinners.
God Sent an Angel
The deliverer in Judges 6, however, is not exactly Christ-like. Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress because he was afraid his grain would be stolen by the Midianites. A winepress is not a good place for threshing. The winnowing (tossing the grain in the air to separate the wheat from the chaff) would be difficult to do in such a setting. The Angel said to Gideon, "The LORD is with you, Oh mighty man of valor."
Gideon proceeded to say four very foolish things in verse 13. First, Gideon said, "If the LORD is really with us ..." Why on earth would Gideon say "if?" The Angel of the LORD just told Gideon that the LORD was with them! This statement is a blatant contradiction of the word of the LORD. It is similar to Satan's "did God really say ... ?" in Genesis 3. Second, Gideon asks "Why has all this happened to us?" As if it was not obvious enough why all these things happened to Israel, God had just sent a prophet to tell them why in verses 7-10. If that was not enough, Gideon should have remembered that God had promised this very judgment if Israel disobeyed. Third, Gideon asks "Where are all these wonderful deeds that the fathers told us about?" Gideon seems to be a member of that "next generation" from chapter 2-the generation that did not know the LORD. The Angel of the LORD, was standing right in front of him and Gideon was still doubting. Finally, Gideon concluded, "the LORD must have forsaken us." For Gideon the LORD was very arbitrary-He made a covenant with Israel and then forgot about it permitting Midian sweep over them. Gideon should have recalled the prophet’s words to know why these things had happened. They were suffering precisely because God was still with them. Gideon was probably not ignorant of these things; he was simply making excuses.
God's response to Gideon was to call him to be the deliverer, "Go for I send you." God had called Gideon a mighty man. Why? The answer is not, as some have suggested, that "God believes in you, so you can do anything," making it a wishy-washy sentiment. God was pointing out that Gideon had the resources available to him. His father was wealthy with many servants at his command. God was not asking Gideon to be something he was not. Gideon was perfectly happy not to use them, choosing to live in fear while waiting for someone else be the deliverer.
The LORD responded to Gideon's reluctance by saying "I will be with you" (:16). That promise was not enough for Gideon. He wanted a sign. Last time around on the cycle, we had Barak who would only go on the condition that Deborah go with him. In this cycle, the LORD Himself appeared promising to be with Gideon, and still Gideon is reluctant. He asked for a sign, prepared a meal, and brought it to the Angel. The Angel of the LORD instructed Gideon to use the meal as an offering. Gideon put it on a rock. The Angel touched the meal with His staff and it burst into flames as a burnt offering. Suddenly, the Angel of the LORD disappeared.
Finally, in verse 22, Gideon realized to whom he had been talking and he became terrified. The LORD spoke to him a word of grace, "peace be with you, you will not die." This fear of Gideon seems very unusual to us. We are used to the idea of God being a buddy-buddy, friendly old Being. He was only worthy of such fear in the Old Testament. If only Gideon had a copy of the New Testament (maybe he could get one from the Gideons?), then he would not be so frightened. However, we are the ones who are misinformed, not Gideon. Davis puts it this way: "We have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think that intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. But there is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness." We need to have a holy reverence and fear of so awesome and terrible a God. (Please read R.C. Sproul's Holiness of God if you have not already.)
In response to his call, Gideon built an altar. Of all things, he named it "The LORD is peace." Most people assume that Gideon gave the altar this name because of what the LORD said in verse 23, "Peace be with you." But was that why the LORD appeared to Gideon in the first place-to give him peace? Did God appear to Gideon so that Gideon could go around saying "peace, peace" when there was no peace? No! God had told him to go destroy the Midianites! Only false prophets cry "peace, peace," when there is no peace. Gideon should have gone right out and gotten to work. Instead he built an altar. Of course, there is nothing wrong with building altars, per se. But how many times in the Old Testament does not God say that He would rather have obedience than sacrifice? Acts ofworship are of course not bad in and of themselves. But if you are getting together with your prayer group over a cup of coffee and scones when you should be out helping that new family in church who asked for help moving in, you are missing the point. There is a proper time for worship and a proper time for obedience and service. Gideon confused the two. This misplaced and misnamed altar foreshadowed the failure of his future altar, as well. Keep this in mind for when we get to Judges 8. Gideon's altar-building projects at the beginning and at the ending of his story pretty much failed. At least now Gideon seems to have a sense of calling and willingness to serve the LORD.
In verses 25–26, the LORD came to Gideon at night, telling him to tear down the town Baal altar, cut down the town Asherah idol , and then build an altar to the LORD in their place. This was going to be a stealth mission-undercover for the sake of the LORD. There was only one problem with this. The idol and altar belong to Gideon's father, Joash. Joash means "The LORD is strength." Gideon's father certainly did not live up to that name. He was the owner of the local Baal temple. Gideon's first mission from the LORD was not a conflict with the Midianites, but with the idolatry within his own town, within his own family. Before Gideon could deliver people from foreign oppression, he has to deal with the trouble in his own midst.
Verse 27a tells us that Gideon took ten men with him to fulfill his mission. Is this a bad thing or a good thing? How many people does it take to tear down a Baal altar, especially if you have a huge bull to help? Verse 27b makes it explicit that this is a bad thing. Gideon's motivation was fear. Do you realize how rare it is (especially in the book of Judges) for an Old Testament author to tell us what people's motivations are? This is obviously an important point to the narrator. Fear is a key theme in this passage and in the entire Gideon story. Gideon was afraid of his family and of the men of the town.
Verses 28–32 tell us of the consequences of Gideon's stealth raid on the Baal temple. The men of the town discover the destroyed idol and altar, find out who destroyed them, and then decide to lynch Gideon. They wanted to punish him for his blasphemy in destroying their temple. Remember: these are not Midianites, these are Israelites! This should have been their response when the pagan altar was erected in the first place. How did these Israelites get to be so orthodox when it came to Baal worship, and so completely negligent when it came to the worship of the LORD? It illustrates how truly depraved the Israelites became in the days of the judges.
The men of the town went to Joash Gideon's father, and asked him to help them punish Gideon. It seems a little bit of sense has sunken into Joash. He said, "If Baal is a god, let Baal take care of himself." This is very similar to Elijah's words to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. It seems that at least Joash has come around a little bit. The men of the town give Gideon a new name-Jerubbaal, which means "let Baal contend against him."
In verses 33–35. the Midianites showed up again. The domestic conflict is meet. now back to the national one. The Spirit of the LORD came upon on Gideon and he began to gather troops. Finally, he was acting like a deliverer should. Gideon's reluctance however, is not done yet.
In verses 36–37. Gideon asked for another sign. Gideon said "If you will save us like YOU have said then do this." He is basically saying "Lord, your word is not good enough, but if there is a sign, I will believe.” How does God respond? Does He say. “Gideon, I am tired of your doubts, go away?" No. The text tells us that Gideon rose the next morning and the sign was fulfilled. God is patient, kind, and gracious. So now Gideon goes out and defeats the Midianites, right?
Wrong. In verses 38-40, Gideon wants a different sign. That first sign was too easy. He needed a different sign. I do not know about you, but I would have given up on Gideon by now if! was the LORD. However, we are often too hard on Gideon. He was indeed wrong to doubt and fear, but we often are the same way. But, the LORD's reaction and character has not changed from the time of Gideon. He is patient in our weaknesses and doubts. Davis puts it this way: "God does not mind humbling Himself in order to bolster our fragile faith, our wavering grip on His word." He is eager to give us comfort and assurance, He is willing to give us signs. But for us today, "He has provided a table instead of a threshing floor, and bread and wine in the place of a fleece."
We can easily identify with Gideon in his weakness, his lack of faith, and his fear. We, like him, have a desire to obey in secret. We do not want our classmates or our friends at work to know our Christian witness. Dr. lain Duguid has pointed out that in our hearts, we have many altars of Baal that we secretly want to tear down, but keep on publicly worshipping. We do not want to be public about our Christian faith. So many times, we are more afraid of people finding out our "clean little secrets" rather than our dirty ones. We would not want our friends to know that we did not watch that move because we think that the sequel content was sinful. We are afraid that our friends will start calling us "holy rollers" or "hey, she's a nun." But God took care of Gideon in this situation, as he takes care of us. And God was willing to use Gideon despite all his fears and weaknesses. God uses imperfect people -it is all He has to work with!
But thank God that the ultimate Deliverer, Jesus Christ, came without fear. He was full of faith and full of strength. Jesus takes away our lack of weakness. He removed it on the cross. He died for all our reluctance, for all of our failings. And by His Spirit, He gives us strength.
Mr. James Oord is a Christian Thought major and a Junior at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
Lesson 7: Points to Ponder
1. How does the message of the prophet parallel the Ten Commandments?
2. How should the knowledge that Christ delivered us while we where yet sinners affect our daily walk with God?
3. Who was the Angel of the Lord? Was he an angel sent from God or the pre-incarnate Christ? Is it important to the lesson to know?
4. Do we often make excuses, perhaps even blaming God, when failures come upon us as a nation or as individuals? What lessons can we learn from failures?
5. How have we lost a sense of the fear of God? How do we gain it back?
6. What are the similarities and differences between Gideon's call and that of Moses?
7. Are there times when we let worship interfere with actions?
8. Have you ever put God to the test? How did Jesus respond when Satan tempted Him to "put out the fleece" in Luke 4:9–12? How should we respond?