The sixth chapter of Judges begins with the common opening statement declared at the start of each of these paragraphs. “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 6:1). Because of their disobedience, the Lord again gives Israel over to oppression, this time to the nation of Midian. The oppression is so significant this time that the people of Israel make dens for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. They cannot live a normal life but must hide for their lives. Further, the text tells us that Midian is economically exploiting and destroying Israel. When Israel planted crops, the Midianites and surrounding nations would devour the produce of the land, leaving no crops or livestock for Israel. Listen to the final words of verse 5: “They would come in like locusts in number… so that they laid waste to the land as they came in.” The people are devastated. They are greatly impoverished and reduced to starvation (6:6). After seven years of this oppression, the people cry out to the Lord.
God’s Call For Repentance (6:7-10)
With the people crying out to the Lord, we have come to expect a certain response. When the people cried out to the Lord before, God sent a deliverer, a judge, to save the people from their oppression, like Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah and Barak. But God does not do that this time. This time the Lord sends a prophet with a message (6:8). Instead of a savior, God sends a sermon. The message is that God had brought the people out of Egyptian slavery and told them not to worship or fear the other gods and idols. But the people have no obeyed the voice of the Lord. This is the end of the message. God sends them a prophet to move them from regret to repentance. Regret is about us; repentance is about God. Right now, the people are just miserable because of the oppression they are experiencing. But we have seen in the cycle of the judges that they are not crying out to the Lord in repentance. They are not turning to the Lord because they love God but because they love self and want to return to their prosperity and comfort. So God wants to impress upon the people that it is their disobedience and their hearts turning to idols that has brought about their suffering. But God does not leave them in this condition, as right as it would be for God to do so. What God will do is give the people a reason for repentance. God says, “Repent!” and then does great acts of salvation so we will.
The Call of Gideon (6:11-24)
The rest of this chapter shows God moving to bring about the salvation of his people. Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. Obviously, a winepress is not where a person typically threshed wheat. But the Midianites have been devouring the land. So Gideon is hiding the wheat in the winepress as he is threshing it. This is what makes verse 12 interesting. The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” There are two things that seem wrong with this declaration. First, Gideon is not a mighty man of valor. He is hiding wheat from the Midianites. Second, it does not look like the Lord is with Gideon or with Israel. Notice that this problem is what Gideon seizes on in verse 13. “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us…? But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
This is the human response. We argue with the reality that God is with us because we look around at our present circumstances. Why are bad things happening to us? Where is God’s deliverance? Gideon argues with the angel that the Lord is with them. This is what people do today. They look around at the world and say that God is not with us or even that God does not exist. They look at their lives and declare that God has left them or that there is no God. But what is interesting is that Gideon and the people of Israel have not listened to the voice of the Lord. Notice verse 8. The Lord sent a prophet that spoke to the people of Israel that they are disobeying him. But Gideon dares to ask the question, “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” The answer is clear. Yes, God is with you but you are disobeying him. Sin is the problem. How often we ignore the obvious! We cry that God is not with us. But God’s response is to ask if we are turning from our sins. Rather than learning from our difficulties and be transformed into what God wants, we just want God to fix it. We just want God to make things better and we not asking ourselves if we are turning ourselves to the Lord through these difficulties and circumstances. The Lord is moving us to repentance yet we declare that the Lord has forsaken us.
The Lord tells Gideon to go in his own strength and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Immediately Gideon recognizes that he does not possess the strength in himself to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Gideon notes that he is the least in his father’s house and his clan is the weakest in his tribe. There are stronger clans in the tribe and there are even stronger family members than himself. He is not fit for the task. He does not have the strength to deliver. This is exactly what God wants Gideon to recognize. This is exactly what God wants every person to recognize. You do not possess the strength. But if God is with you then you have all the strength you need. Since God is with Gideon, he will strike down the whole Midianite army as if he were fighting only one man.
But Gideon needs a sign. I think it is important to remember that angels do not necessarily appear like angels when they speak with people. There is not a sign on his shirt that says, “I am an angel.” There are no wings, halos, or translucent appearance. This is a messenger from the Lord telling him to go in the strength of the Lord and fight Midian which will bring about the salvation of the nation. Gideon asks for a sign to know that it is the Lord that is speaking to him. Gideon will bring his gift or offering to him, recognizing that he is speaking to someone important. Gideon returns with a young goat prepared for eating, unleavened cakes, and a pot of broth. The angel directs Gideon to put the meat and the cakes on the rock and pour the broth over it. Then the angel took his staff and touched the meat and cakes. Fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord disappears. Gideon believes the sign and believes he is going to die because he saw the angel of the Lord face to face. But the Lord speaks to Gideon and tells him not to fear for he will not die. So Gideon builds an altar to the Lord there.
Instructions to Gideon (6:25-32)
Consider what occurs next. The Lord does not tell Gideon to go to battle against the Midianites. Even though this is ultimately what God said that Gideon needed to do, this is not the instruction Gideon receives. Before God will go with them into battle against Midian, something else has to happen first. The Lord tells Gideon to take two of his father’s bulls and pull down the altar of Baal that his father had erected and cut down the Asherah pole that is beside it. I want us to think about the size of this altar if it requires two bulls to pull it down. This is not a small altar. Then Gideon is to built an altar to the Lord on top of the stronghold (a very visible place for the town to see), take one of his father’s bulls and offer as a burnt offering. We must see that this is a costly request. Tear down the altar and the large Asherah pole was costly enough. But then to take a valuable bull and offer it as a burnt offering to God is also costly. Verse 27 is wonderful for we read that Gideon “did as the Lord had told him.” But he did this at night because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town. This altar and idol pole that his father has built was not some small thing in his father’s backyard. These are large idols that the people of the town knew about and perhaps even used themselves to worship these false gods. Verse 28 gives the indication that this was used by the whole town. Gideon has reason to fear that he is going to be killed for doing what he did. Yet he did it anyway. He obeys the command of the Lord and did exactly what the Lord asked.
So the people of the town wake up in the morning and see the destruction of the altar to Baal and Asherah pole. So the town goes about finding who did this and they determine that Gideon did it. So they go to the father and tell him to bring out his son because they are going to kill him for what he did. But Gideon’s father does not agree with the reaction of the crowd and has a wise response. “Are you going to save Baal?” Think about this for a moment. Do you have to save God? If Baal is God, then let Baal take care of Gideon. You do not have to save Baal if he is truly God.
The message God is showing to the people was to ring loudly in their ears. Building an altar to God means tearing down the other altars, not building another altar next to Baal. Worshiping God means ripping out all other objects of worship, not worshiping God along with all the other things we value and treasure. This is what Jesus is repeatedly declaring to those who would consider following him.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV)
When Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:12-27 he is identifying all the desires that we want to keep in our hearts rather than fully serving the Lord. In Matthew 8:18-22 we see two people who say they will follow Jesus but Jesus tells them that being his disciple means giving up everything. The rich man in Matthew 18:16-30 is told that he must sell all that he has to follow Jesus and does not because he was very rich. Building an altar to God means tearing down all other altars. Serving and following Jesus means tearing out all other desires so that we desire him alone. Idol removal is necessary and it is the demand of God. God must master every area of our lives.
Now we may listen to this and think that we cannot do it. But let’s go back to how God approached Gideon. You need to repent but the Lord is with you. God works through hesitant, weak people. He does not choose super heroes. Gideon is weak and incapable who has a father who is important in the town and has established idolatry in the area. God comes to him and comes to us and tells us to tear down those idols. God will not coexist with other desires. We cannot worship the Lord formally but allow our lives to revolve around our idols. Serving God means tearing out all other competitors. God gives us the strength we need to accomplish this transformation. We noted at the beginning of this chapter that God says to repent and then does a great act of salvation so that we would. God did the same for us today. God sent John the Baptizer telling the people to repent and then did a great act of salvation so we would by sending Jesus to die for our sins. Now the apostles went throughout the world commanding all people to repent (Acts 17:30). Look to Jesus, repent of idolatry, and tear out those competing desires.