The book of Judges covers the period of time after Joshua had led the Israelites into the Promised Land –and before Saul had become their king. It describes times of prosperity when Israel followed God –and times of poverty and oppression when they ignored Him.
Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD. (Judges 6:1-6)
The Israelites had lived in peace for forty years –life was easy –there was no need for God. They became like their neighbors –worshipping idols of Baal and Asherah poles. To draw them back to Him, God handed them over to the Midianites to show how distant they had become. The invaders and ravaged the country for seven years –they destroyed the crops and herds. By taking away the people’s physical and emotional security, God finally got their attention.
Most of us are like those Israelites, we have to be in really miserable circumstances to accept the fact that we desperately need God. His goal is for us to be reunited with Him as it was in the Garden. And He will use whatever it takes to humble us –so that we too will cry out, “Oh God, please help me!”
Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”’” (Judges 6:7-10)
God sent a prophet to remind the Israelites of their history and what was required of them. They had lost sight of Him and ignored His command: “I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.” They were in this situation because they didn’t obey God’s command for conquering the Promised Land –it’s in .
Our conscience is like the prophet in this story. Romans chapter one says that everyone –without exception– begins life far away from God. Creation testifies that God exists and our consciences attest to our sinful nature. He has given all mankind over to our own selfish desires and lets us reap the consequences.
Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:11-13)
Then He sent an angel to Gideon with a message of hope. God was going to use him to save Israel from the Midianites. But Gideon questioned the reality of the message by basically saying “Where has God been? The only things I know about Him are through legends that have been handed down from our fathers about miracles that occurred years ago. What has He done lately? He hasn’t showed us that He really cares!”
We’ve all been exposed to the message of hope –the gospel. I said that this story is an allegory with Gideon representing our human spirit. God uses people –our parents, a radio program, a pastor, a close friend– as angels to carry His message. It’s His Spirit that communicates with our spirit to tell us that it’s true.
The LORD looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:14-15)
Gideon asked himself, “how could God pick me?” He was the least-of-the-least; his family was insignificant in the tribe and Gideon himself was insignificant in his family.
Likewise, we wonder how we can trust something that we can’t see. But then, God doesn’t use the powerful and logical things of this world to accomplish His ends.
But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.” Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. (Judges 6:16-19)
It took something amazing to convince Gideon. He wanted to be sure that what he heard was truly from God and not just a fleeting thought or wishful dream.
The angels who came to us –those who have related the gospel– told about the magnificent changes in their lives. Outwardly, we nod and smile; but inwardly, we question the reality.
The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” The LORD said to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. (Judges 6:20-24)
The angel had said to him “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon had huge doubts, but his journey of faith had begun.
Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night. When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. They said to one another, “Who did this thing?” And when they searched about and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.” Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.” (Judges 6:25-30)
To increase Gideon’s trust –in God, not himself or other men– he was tasked with proving to himself the emptiness of idols and religion. Gideon was experiencing the living God who cared for him and his people.
We all need that same increasing confidence –that God is who He says He is. When we turn our lives over to Him –and He begins to make changes in us– we start to see just how trustworthy God really is.
But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.” Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he had torn down his altar. (Judges 6:31-32)
When the whole town was against his young warrior, Gideon’s father gave a brash defense stating that if Baal was really a great god then he should be powerful enough to take care of such a small thing as someone who had torn down an altar.
A small voice (our spirit) within us –in the early days of our walk with God– makes a similar claim. If God is really who He says He is, then He can change my life, too.
Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel. So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them. (Judges 6:33-35)
Those nasty Midianites and their friends gathered together and flaunted their power. It’s reminiscent of the Philistines when David faced Goliath.
In those first days when we contemplated beginning a new way of life with Jesus as Lord, we were surrounded by temptations to find another way.
Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)
Gideon was still short on confidence that God was with him in this huge undertaking. He asked for a sign that he was not alone. He placed a sheepskin on the threshing room floor and asked God for it be wet and the floor be dry in the morning. It happened just as he asked. Still unsure, Gideon asked God for another proof –a dry sheepskin on a wet floor. That was the point in time when Gideon saw that God was worthy of his trust.
We say we trusted God when someone asks how we got through one of life’s difficult times, but all through that time we were asking Him for signs. “Why is this happening?” “Show me what to do, God.” We’re no different.