JUDGES6to8: GIDEON

(A) Introduction. Read Judges 6, 7 and 8.

Once again I will not deal exhaustively with the text but try and draw some lessons from the very complex character of Gideon and the way God used him to deliver his people from the oppressor.

The study will be divided into three parts: Gideon a man: (1) Chosen by God, (2) Of hidden depths and (3) Spoiled by success.

(B) Gideon was a man chosen by God.

It is possible the angel of the LORD was being ironical in addressing Gideon: "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." Jd6v12. Or, perhaps, the implication is that the LORD will turn him into a mighty warrior.

Gideon, like Moses before him, does not see himself as the saviour of his people. He baulks at the angel's challenge: Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Jd6v14.

I think Gideon was cautious rather than cowardly by nature. His brothers had paid with their lives for standing up to the Midiantites. Gideon showed prudence by threshing his wheat in the winepress and by demolishing the altar of Baal under cover of darkness. There would probably have been bloodshed if he had tried to destroy the altar of Baal in broad daylight. There's no merit in being reckless!

Gideon's caution made him resist the call to arms. He protests his lowly status. He is the youngest son of a small and insignificant clan in Manasseh. Who is he to lead Israel?

There are four reasons God may have chosen Gideon:

(1) He was deeply unhappy about the prevailing situation.

Nomads from the east moved into the valleys and plains of Israel in the spring and grazed their flocks on the growing crops. They also robbed the Israelites of what crops they managed to harvest and pilfered their livestock.

Some of Gideon's brothers had been executed by the kings of Midian doubtless for protesting against the depredations of the nomads. See Jd8v18to21. Gideon longed to avenge the death of his kin.

I think it likely that Gideon was unhappy with Baal worship. There is plenty of evidence in the narrative of his belief in the LORD. He ascribes the wretched condition of the 12 tribes to the LORD: Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt? But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian. Considering the shortage of food in the land Gideon prepares a lavish offering to the LORD. He uses 40 lbs of flour to make bread. After his sacrifice had been accepted he built an altar to the LORD called: The LORD is peace. Jd6v24. Gideon doesn't appear to have any qualms about destroying the altar to Baal and chopping up the Asherah Pole except for the anger it would cause.

So Gideon is actually highly motivated to take action against the Midianites - if only he can be guaranteed success!

When things are all awry in society or the church people need to be concerned! In the 19th century two very different individuals - Lord Shaftesbury and Charles Dickens - in their own highly effective fashion drew attention and did something about the ills of society. Both men were profoundly affected by their experience. As a teenager at Harrow School Shaftesbury once witnessed a ramshackle, undignified pauperís funeral. His compassion welled up for the dead man, and he resolved then to commit his life to making a difference to the fates of the working classes.

(2) Gideon knew he was incapable in and of himself to remedy the situation.

Gideon was under no illusions. He could never muster enough men to defeat the 135, 000 strong force of desert marauders and their intimidating camel corps. The enemy was too strong for Israel to defeat alone. Gideon knew he would have to rely on the LORD for success.

Everyone involved in Christian service should be aware of the dark forces determined to sabotage their efforts to please Jesus. We need to rely on God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Hudson Taylor the founder of the China Inland Mission experienced much opposition to his work. Initially the Chinese called him 'the Black Devil' for the black overcoat he wore. When Taylor changed to native Chinese dress there was much criticism from other missionary organisations in China. After the Shanghai mission compound was attacked in a riot and the British navy got involved the British press accused Hudson Taylor of starting a war. However, the great missionary surmounted all his problems with God's help and laid the foundation for wonderful church growth in the 20th century.

In a small way I witnessed the providential protection of God during the 20 years I served at Pioneer Camp. Satan has no time for Christian camps. He doesn't want young people to be converted. He will do his best to disrupt things. But Satan never succeeded because God was with us. The workers at Pioneer Camp were very conscious of their dependence upon God.

(3) Gideon would not get involved until he was sure God intended to help him.

Some commentators and preachers consider Gideon's need for reassurance shows lack of faith. It certainly reveals Gideon's caution but not necessarily lack of faith. Gideon knew that he would only succeed in overcoming the Midianite menace if God was really committed to the cause. He didn't doubt that God could help him but he wanted to be sure that God would help him.

God in his mercy gave Gideon four signs of his good intent: the sacrifice was miraculously consumed, there was the wet fleece on dry ground, the dry fleece on wet ground and the Midianite guard's dream about the rolling barley loaf which was thought to presage defeat by the Israelites.

Before starting any project, it is important to be sure it is in the will of God. I am sure some building projects and church appointments are not in the will of God. Nor do I think it is a good idea to 'put out the fleece'- to look for omens and signs. God's will can be discerned by asking some simple questions: Is there a need? Is this the best solution? Is there another way? Are my motives pure? Does Scripture provide any guidance? Has the church as a whole prayed at length about the matter?

Let us take as an example the desire to pull down an old church building to erect a bigger one. Perhaps the numbers can be accommodated by holding two services on Sunday morning instead of one. Is it desirable for the church to get bigger - maybe groups of believers should leave to worship elsewhere? Do I see a new church building as a monument to myself? How much prayer has been offered for guidance?

(4) Once Gideon was sure God intended to give Israel the victory he was prepared to satisfy God's conditions without protest.

Gideon, that cautious man, did what God said and reduced his fighting force from 32, 000 to 10, 000 and then from 10, 000 to 300.

Gideon is not named as a hero of faith in Hebrews for nothing. He displayed his faith by following God's instructions to the letter. He was going to depend upon the LORD and not on his own resources. So whether he had an army of 32, 000 or 300 made no difference - the LORD was going to give him the victory.

We show faith by obeying God even when it does not appear in our best interests to do so. C.T.Studd the missionary to China and Africa displayed this kind of faith when his father died and he came into his inheritance of £29, 000. He gave it all away: specifying £5,000 to be used for the Moody Bible Institute, £5,000 for George Muller's mission work and his orphans, £5,000 for George Holland's work with England's poor in Whitechapel, and £5,000 to Commissioner Booth Tucker for the Salvation Army in India.

My brother Paul showed faith when he gave up a good job as a probation officer to become the pastor of a small, struggling, inner city church.

I showed faith when I gave up teaching to care for my father in the terminal stages of Parkinson's disease.

(C) Gideon was a man of hidden depths.

Once Gideon embarked on his campaign against the Midianites certain other qualities became evident.

He was:

(1) Credible.

Gideon was, in spite of his protestations, a very credible leader. The interchange between Gideon and the two captured kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, is very interesting: Then he (Gideon) asked Zebah and Zalmunna, "What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?" "Men like you," they answered, "each one with the bearing of a prince." Ch8v13.. These were Gideon's brothers.

So Gideon had the bearing of a prince. This might in part be because the Spirit of the LORD came upon him. See ch6v34. Nevertheless it was something Gideon shared with his brothers. He wasn't quite the nonentity that many preachers like to make out.

It is significant that his 10 servants obeyed him and demolished his father's altar to Baal. He was also able to raise an army of 32, 000 men who accepted his leadership. Remarkably the 300 left to Gideon after he had decimated his army stayed with him. They also did exactly what he told them. None of this would have happened if Gideon had not possessed some charisma and strength of character.

Leadership qualities will often remain hidden and unrecognised until, 'cometh the hour cometh the man.' This was certainly true of some well known Bible characters like Joseph, David, Moses, Nehemiah and Esther. It was true of Winston Churchill who only showed his mettle during the Second World War. It has been true in church history with the rise from obscurity of such diverse figures as Martin Luther and D.L. Moody.

It is very sad when leadership qualities remain unrecognised and a man or a woman never realises his or her potential. I think it is relatively common in the church. Christians should remember the bleak and bitter words of Jesus, "A prophet is not without honour save in his own country."

(2) Resourceful.

Gideon's resourcefulness meant that despite the depredations of the Midianites his family had livestock and grain. Gideon had wheat to thresh and so much flour he could use 40 lbs of it to make bread for his sacrifice to the LORD. His father had at least two bulls.

Gideon also showed resourcefulness in devising a strategy to spook the Midianites. There is no indication that God told him how to proceed after his army had been reduced to 300. Gideon realised that the Midianites were jumpy after overhearing two of them discussing a dream. One of the Midianites concluded the dream about a barley loaf tumbling into the camp and knocking flat a tent showed: "God has given over the Midianites and the whole camp into his (Gideon's) hands." Jd5v14.

Gideon based his plan on the apprehensiveness of the Midianites who must have wondered what was going on as most of Israel's troops were sent home. So when the three companies of 100 blew their ram's horns, broke their earthenware containers, waved their flaming torches and shouted the battle cry as the watch was being changed at 10pm, the Midianites panicked. They milled about in the dark fighting one another before fleeing in alarm.

There is no doubt that faith allied to resourcefulness is more effective than faith alone. A great deal is made of David's faith in going to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath, with only a sling and a stone. He needed faith because he might have missed! But the fact is, David was a brilliant shot with the sling. Nehemiah who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem was a man of faith but he also had great organisational ability. The same could be said of Moses, Joseph, Daniel and Esther.

Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission was a man of great faith and of great ability. He had a gift for languages and knew Mandarin, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. All four would be beyond me! The apostle Paul writes about God using the weak things of the world to confound the wise and although this may be true he, himself, was a man of outstanding intellectual ability. It is hard to imagine the letter to the Romans being written by an unintelligent person.

(3) Diplomatic.

The Ephraimites didn't like it because Gideon had not invited them to provide troops for his army. They were piqued and felt insulted. Their pride was wounded.

Gideon showed the advantage of a soft answer that turns away wrath. He assured the Ephraimites that the accomplishment of his small force paled into insignificance compared to their exploits at the fords of the Jordan where they captured the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. "Aren't the gleanings of Ephraim's grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer." Jd8v3. This pacified the proud Ephraimites.

The soft answer works. It worked in the case of Abigail who calmed down a highly irate David intent on teaching her husband a lesson. See 1Sam25. It worked in the case of Daniel. See Dan1. It worked on me whenever I berated a pupil for idleness and the response was, in a small, meek, frightened voice, "I'm very sorry, Mr Reed." It worked for me when I placed my hand on John's head and said with glee, "I've discovered your guilty secret." Next day John accosted me in the staff room and attacked me with venom for drawing attention to his wig in such a malicious and unchristian fashion. I very quietly and apologetically explained that I didn't realise he was wearing a wig but thought he was using hair laquer. My soft, sincere answer turned away his anger.

(4) Thorough.

Gideon and his brave 300 pursued the Midianites across the Jordan even though they were exhausted. See Jd8v4. Neither the inhabitants of Succoth or Peniel in Gad were willing to provide them with food for fear of Midianite retaliation. Gideon's force must have got food from somewhere because they pursued the nomadic horde to Karkar, east of the Dead Sea. Here the Midianites halted and regrouped. They probably felt safe, so far from Israel. So Gideon was able to take them by surprise and such was their demoralisation that they scattered and fled allowing the Midian leaders, Zebah and Zalmunna, to be captured.

Many people start a job well but then fail to see it through to the end. This was true of the tribes of Israel who did not succeed in driving out all the Canaanites from their territory but allowed a remnant to remain. See Jd1v27to36. The Canaanite presence was a snare to the Israelites who intermarried with them and adopted their gods.

The success of eliminating a disease with a program of vaccination depends upon everyone being vaccinated. In this way tuberculosis and polio have been virtually eradicated in Britain.

So as Christians we need to remain on task. A significant and often overlooked way that we serve God is in our everyday tasks. Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, "The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship." From Our Daily Bread, September 5, 1994.

(5) Ruthless.

Gideon shared one attribute with all the other judges. He was ruthless. He punished the men of Succoth for not providing food for his men by thrashing them with desert thorns and briers. Jd8v16. He pulled down the tower of Peniel, killing those who took refuge in it, for the same offence. Gideon made short work of Zebah and Zalmunna the kings of Midian thereby avenging the death of his brothers.

One of the aspects of David's encounter with Goliath that is airbrushed out of the story is the way the shepherd lad cut off the giant's head with his own sword. Not only did he cut it off but he carried it about with him as a trophy. David was still clutching it when presented to king Saul after the battle.

David had a ruthless streak! He had never killed a giant before and he made absolutely sure he was dead!

The church should be ruthless in its treatment of errors and practices that dishonour Jesus and weaken his body. Jesus gave no quarter in his denunciation of the legalistic Pharisees and lawyers. See exposition on Luke11v37to54. Paul roundly condemned the false "super-apostles" that were leading the Corinthian Christians astray. See exposition on 2Cor11v1to15.

There are destructive tendencies in the church to fight against as ruthlessly as Gideon fought the Midianites: Legalism, liberalism, hypocrisy, greed, discrimination, disunity and so on. Such evils should be rooted out without mercy.

(D) Gideon was a man spoiled by success.

(1) Gideon refused the monarchy but lived like a king.

The Israelites invited Gideon to be their king for delivering them from the Midianites. Gideon rightly refused the offer: I will not rule over you nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you. Jd8v23.

As against this Gideon emulated pagan kings by having many wives and 70 sons. This suggests a life of some self-indulgence. Gideon even had a mistress in Shechem for when he visited that central town to exercise judgement. He even called his son by his mistress, Abimelech, meaning, 'My father is king.'

There is no doubt that success and celebrity corrupt. There are many examples in the Bible: Saul, David, Solomon and Hezekiah.

Successful and popular church leaders need to be very, very careful. It is so easy for a charismatic and influential pastor to expect his own way. So if on a rare occasion the church members are disinclined to adopt one of his proposals the affronted pastor may be inclined to adopt dirty tactics. It is the sin of David who tried to manipulate Uriah the Hittite.

(2) Gideon may have been deficient in judgement.

Gideon asked his army for gold ear-rings plundered from the vanquished Midianites. About 43 lbs weight was contributed. With these he made an ephod. Now the Jewish High Priest wore an ephod. It is described in Exodus28. The ephod was a bit like a short apron that covered the chest. The square breast plate was attached to the ephod by gold chains. The breast plate was really an elaborate pocket - open at the top. The outer part of the pocket was adorned with 12 gems. The Urim and Thummim were kept in the pocket. No one is sure what these were. However, they were used for making decisions. Urim probably means cursed and Thummim means faultless. So they may have been two different coloured stones in a bag. A stone was drawn from the bag to decide a case that could not be decided any other way. It would show which party to the dispute was faultless and which party was guilty.

Gideon's ephod was possibly a golden, upstanding copy of the real thing. It would have a jewel encrusted receptacle at the front in which were kept the Urim and Thummim. One can imagine parties to a dispute approaching the "lottery box" and taking out a coloured pebble to decide their innocence or guilt.

Gideon's decision to erect a replica ephod may indicate a lack of confidence in making judgements. There is a profound difference between being a wise judge and a successful warrior.

There remain Christians who rely on omens and portents to discern the will of God rather than reasoned judgement, the Scriptures and prayer. There is no merit in opening the Bible at random and stabbing your finger down on a text hoping thereby to discover God's will.

(3) Gideon allowed things to get out of hand.

Firstly the ephod became an object of worship. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there. Jd8v27.

It is not hard to see how this came about. The Israelites probably began to consult the ephod about ordinary, everyday decisions: when to sow their crops, when to harvest their crops, whether to invest in a new bullock, whether to buy a piece of land, who to marry and so on. It would not be long before people began to offer gifts to the ephod in gratitude for making the right decision. Then they would make gifts hoping to improve the ephod's decision making ability. Before long the ephod became an object of worship.

This shows how prone to idolatry the Israelites were. They seemed unable to worship God except through some tangible object.

Sadly Gideon did nothing to remedy the situation. He should have destroyed the ephod rather than allow it to become an idol.

Today, it remains easy for something else to come between the believer and his God - the church building, the graveyard, icons, images, ritual, a doctrinal statement, a church leader - even the Bible.

Secondly the ephod became a snare to Gideon and his family. We can't be sure what this means but it is possible the family made money out of the ephod. Gideon may have charged people to consult it over every day issues. Certainly he would have kept money and goods offered to it.

Gideon's family was not popular. The Israelites failed to show kindness to the family of Jerub-Baal. Jd8v35. That may be because they enriched themselves by exploiting the cult of the ephod.

We need to be very careful not to allow a vested interest to get in the way of doing what is best for our church. It has been known for organists to get very uptight when alternative instruments are used for worship. Choirmasters occasionally fall out with clergymen. Ladies can even quarrel about the proper management of the church kitchen.

It is wrong for our ego to get in the way of making decisions beneficial to the church. It is sinful to protect our own interests at the expense of the spiritual well being of others.

This was the mistake Gideon made - and many others have made after him.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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